Arrest and remand of Patrick Teoh is unnecessary and excessive
11 May 2020
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the arrest and remand of Patrick Teoh, a radio personality and actor, in connection with the allegation that he insulted the Johor Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, on social media. Although the post has since been deleted, Patrick Teoh is accused of re-sharing a video of the Crown Prince and others dressed in military garb last year, with a comment. After being summoned for questioning by the police on 9 May, he complied at the Petaling Jaya district police headquarters, and was then arrested, had his laptop seized and was brought to Johor for further investigations. On 10 May, Patrick Teoh was remanded for 3 days for investigations under section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
Section 233 of the CMA which governs the “improper use of network facilities or services” is poorly defined, leaving it vague and open to arbitrary interpretations. It has often been abused in the past to silence those who criticise the government or comment on sensitive issues including royalty.
We question why the authorities feel the need to bring Patrick Teoh to Johor and remand him for 3 days for further investigation, when he was fully cooperating with the police. The remand is clearly unnecessary, excessive and appears to have been intended as pre-trial punishment for the alleged crime.
In the time of Covid-19, this also goes against international guidance which, in the interests of public health, calls for a reduction in the numbers of people held in detention.
This investigation is high-handed and brings the administration of justice into disrepute. The role of the police is to maintain public order and prevent crimes, not to be the arbiter of what is an acceptable speech or post on social media. The police must be able to differentiate between impolite or even “insulting” remarks that are not criminal in nature. It should only be an offence if the remarks were threatening or inciting violence, and therefore ought to be investigated under the Penal Code.
We therefore urge the authorities not to resort to the use of legislation which criminalises speech and undermines freedom of expression, as section 233 of the CMA does. We remind the authorities that this was a mere social media post commenting on a public personality, not a threat or anything amounting to a genuine criminal offence. We call upon the police to drop this unnecessary investigation and release Patrick Teoh without delay.
Lawyers for Liberty