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Lawyers slam 'climate of fear' after arrest of govt critic over social media post

Lawyers for Liberty recalls the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and warns the police against the misuse of power to clamp down on dissenting opinions.

2 minute read
Ruslin Abdullah, who frequently uploads videos critical of the government, has been remanded for police investigation.
Ruslin Abdullah, who frequently uploads videos critical of the government, has been remanded for police investigation.

Lawyers group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today slammed the arrest of an activist over a social media post critical of the government, emphasising the right to free speech and warning against the use of the police to clamp down on dissenting opinions.

"Irrespective of whether we agree with his opinions, his right to express forceful criticism of the authorities must be defended," said LFL's campaign coordinator Nabila Khairuddin in a statement. 

"The role of the police force is to maintain public order and prevent real crimes, not to arbitrarily decide what is an acceptable speech or social media posting and to deny democratic space. 

"The police must not misuse their power to clamp down on critical or dissenting opinions, even if crudely or harshly expressed," she said.

Ruslin's lawyer Zolazrai Zolkapli told MalaysiaNow that his client has been remanded for two days, and is being investigated under the Sedition Act, as well as under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

LFL said there is a "deliberate attempt to create a climate of fear and suppress criticism of the government", adding that freedom of speech is guaranteed regardless of political alignment under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.

"The government must be reminded that disagreement, criticism and condemnation are part and parcel of democracy, and they cannot just arrest those whom they disagree with," it said. 

"The right to free speech cannot be restricted, save for the exceptions of public order or security or morality spelt out in Article 10(2)(a).

"Insults or mockery or criticism directed at the police or government, ministers or politicians do not fall within any of those exceptions to the right to free speech.

"It is therefore unlawful, unconstitutional and tyrannical for the government to rely upon the machinery of the enforcement authorities to suppress criticism."

LFL likewise recalled the "many former champions of civil liberties and free speech" who were now part of the administration, urging them to ensure that the government remained consistent and committed to protecting the right to freedom of speech. 

"We therefore call upon the police to drop this unnecessary and high-handed investigation and release Ruslin Abdullah without delay. We also call upon the IGP to cease all investigations which unduly interfere with the right to freedom of speech immediately," it said.