See More on Facebook

Opinion

Criticism is a part of democracy

This editorial from Azmi Sharom looks at the Malaysian Government’s recent troubles with a critical rapper and what it means for democracy.


Written by

Updated: March 1, 2018

ARE you easily annoyed? What does it take to get you annoyed?

Personally, I find that most annoyances are quite easily ignored (which is why I don’t use any form of social media).

Most annoyances are, except for that idiot with a ridiculously loud exhaust system who insists on revving his engines in the wee hours of the morning as he tears down the road in front of my house.

If I ever get my hands on him (and I presume it is a him as only men tend to do such stupid things), I will grab him by the lapels and gently tell him that such a loud car can only mean one thing: “You’re trying to compensate for something tiny, mate.”

Anyway, I digress.

The reason I raise this is because it is actually a crime in this country to be annoying.

You don’t believe me? Well then, allow me to quote the Communi­cations and Multimedia Act 1998, specifically Section 233, which states that it is an offence if a person intentionally uses the Internet to make “any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

You can get a pretty hefty punishment if you are found guilty. Fahmi Reza, the artist, was recently slapped with a 30-day jail sentence and a whopping RM30,000 fine under this law.

And according to the police, the rapper (I must admit to giggling every time the term “rapper” is used on a person who is not African-American) Namewee is being investigated under the same law.

Both men were deemed to be offensive and annoying, I suppose – Fahmi for a spot of drawing and Namewee for a bit of music video making.

I have of course seen both works. One is an obvious satirical dig at a person of power and another is either a more subtle dig at corruption or an advert for dog masks, I am not quite sure which.

The point is, it seems ridiculous that such things can be seen as a crime.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Internet is used for all sorts of nefarious purposes and this law was meant to deal with such things.

Threatening a person is not cool. Neither is sharing photos of people who at one point trusted you.

But these two men were both being critical of government via satire.

Could a law meant to be used to protect people from vindictive exes and criminals be used against government critics? Or to ask a more accurate question, should it?

I would say absolutely not. There are many ways to show displeasure at a government, and other than using violence or inciting violence, anything goes.

This includes satire. It is part and parcel of the democratic process.

Criticism, no matter how biting and crude, is something those in the public eye, especially those who wield power, will simply have to deal with. There is no place for using criminal law against such practices in a democracy.

There are limits to free speech, of course, but as was stated by the US Supreme Court, voices that are critical of public figures, particularly in matters of public interest, must be given as much freedom as possible with the highest level of protection.

Now, some will say that satire is not “our way”.

Well, I am sure there are historians and cultural anthropologists who could point out this is not so. I remember, for example, an old P. Ramlee movie that poked fun at a ruling political party.

But for me, that is not the point. If it is not “our way”, then you can criticise it, you can shun it, but if you criminalise it, then you are in effect placing another shackle on our democracy and stifling our freedom of expression.

And I find that extremely annoying.

(This article was written by Azmi Sharom and originally appeared in the Star Newspaper)



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


ANN Members
About the Author: Asia News Network is a regional media alliance comprising 24 media entities.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Opinion

China slams outside meddling, provocation in South China Sea

China called upon states bordering the South China Sea to jointly work with Beijing to guard against external interference and disruption. Some countries outside the region constantly stir up trouble and brandish forces in the South China Sea, which goes against efforts made by China, the Philippines and other regional states to maintain peace and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr in the southern Philippine city of Davao. Regional countries should remain vigilant against such interference, and continue deepening solidarity and cooperation to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation, and not leave any opportunity for outside forces to exploit the situation, he said. Wang said China will discuss with the Philippines joint exploration of oil and


By China Daily
October 30, 2018

Opinion

A word against regulation

Regulation of social media, like regulation of the press, should not be attempted less it offer another way for despots to control their population. When the printing press first began spreading throughout Europe in the 15thand 16thcenturies, it brought with it a revolution in and democratization of ideas. Scripture and scientific text were spread rapidly and was readily accessible to the masses for the first time. The church’s role as the gatekeepers and purveyors of information lessened with the advent of new technology. Upheaval was not far behind and the printing press played a central role in the reformation led by Martin Luther and the split of the Catholic Church. At this time, the leadership of the church tried to suppress the dissemination of these ideas and the technology which allowed them to flourish. But their attempts were in vain and the world entered a new epoch, one which eventually g


By Cod Satrusayang
October 29, 2018

Opinion

Asia News Network calls for the immediate release of the three Eleven Media editors 

Asia News Network statement on the arrest of Eleven Media senior staff. We, the members of the Asia News Network, express solidarity with our arrested colleagues from Eleven Media Group, Managing Editor Nari Min, Editor in Chief Kyaw Zaw Linn, and Chief Reporter Phyo Wai Win and condemn their arrest under provisions of the law that allow no bail. All three were arrested on October 10 in Yangon for their investigation and coverage of the controversial business ventures of the Yangon Regional Government. They were charged under Article 505 (b) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which does not allow the grant of bail and carries a maximum punishment of two years imprisonment. Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 leading media in 20 Asian countries, stands by the three journalists – not because the Yangon Regional


By ANN Members
October 12, 2018

Opinion

The Marcos family’s last gasp

With President Duterte in power, the Marcos family is ascendant in Philippine national politics again. The remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos have been buried at the national heroes’ cemetery; his only son and namesake has a live election protest against the incumbent vice president; his eldest daughter Imee, the governor of his home province of Ilocos Norte, is polling well among likely candidates for the Senate; and his wife Imelda, at 89, is on her third term as representative of the Marcos’ old congressional bailiwick. But despite the obvious support of a still-popular president and a slick, long-running, well-funded social media operation promoting the Marcos worldview, the Duterte era may turn out to be the Marcos family’s last gasp. These years may be their last opportunity to win back the presidency and everything that goes with it. It will certainly not be for lack of trying, o


By ANN Members
October 8, 2018

Opinion

Pakistan has a Saudi Arabia question it needs to answer

Pakistan needs Saudi money but not its geopolitics. The long-standing strategic alliance between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has taken on a new dimension with prospects of the kingdom participating in CPEC projects. The Saudis have reportedly also shown an interest in investing in the oil, energy and mineral sectors. The new Pakistani government is looking to Riyadh to bail it out of its financial woes. It is evident that the chill in relations between the two allies in recent years has diminished. It was significant that Prime Minister Imran Khan chose Riyadh for his first foreign visit within four weeks of coming to power, thus breaking his pledge of not travelling abroad in his first three months in office. The warm welcome given to the new Pakistani prime minister signalled a fresh beginning and t


By Dawn
October 4, 2018

Opinion

Dialogue is only way to resolve Kashmir issue

The only way to end an ongoing, bloody conflict in Kashmir is for both sides to come to the table. India and Pakistan will not talk. Pakistan wants to talk “Kashmir”. India wants to talk “terror”. Yet they will not talk. The baggage of history weighs heavy on us. The status quo stays. Kashmir bleeds and we the people of Kashmir will continue to pay a heavy price. Not that the people of India and Pakistan will not pay. Of course they too will. We are all paying a high price for this utterly mindless status quo which is seen as politically safe by the ruling elite (whether in power or out of power) in India and in Pakistan. Any shift is compromise which amounts to treason. For the past seven decades the people of Kashmir remain trapped in this rhetoric of the status quo, living a life of bondage in the world


By Dawn
October 1, 2018