The arrest of Ruslin Abdullah for criticizing government failures is a serious threat to civil liberties in Malaysia
1 November 2023
It is reported that activist Ruslin Abdullah was detained by police on 30th October 2023 and remanded for 3 days for “investigation” over a social media posting on Tik-tok purportedly for criticizing government failures (kegagalan kerajaan).
We are appalled by this arrest and detention of a critic of the current government. Irrespective of whether we agree with his opinions, his right to express forceful criticism of the authorities must be defended.
This appears to be a deliberate attempt to create a climate of fear and suppress criticism of the government. The arrest of Ruslin is surely calculated to also send a message to other government critics on Tik-tok and other social media. This renders meaningless the right to freedom of speech that is guaranteed for all, irrespective of political alignment, under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
In fact, 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 postings and to deny democratic space. The police must not misuse their powers to clamp down on critical or dissenting opinions, even if crudely or harshly expressed.
We are deeply alarmed and concerned that under the PH-led administration, the misuse of police powers against political dissidents is increasing, leading to a serious threat to civil liberties. 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.
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.
It is noted that there are many former champions of civil liberties and free speech who now hold prominent positions within the federal government, including the Cabinet. Thus, they must ensure that the government stays consistent in their stance and committed in protecting people’s right to freedom of speech, now that they are in power.
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.
Lawyers for Liberty