Laws should not be amended or enforced arbitrarily to protect the government
10 February 2016
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern Attorney General Apandi Ali’s suggestion to amend the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) to include life imprisonment and 10 strokes of the cane as punishment against whistle-blowers and members of the press who publish confidential government information or secrets. This shocking news came on the heels of Deputy IGP Noor Rashid Ibrahim’s warning that those who spread “distorted” images of government leaders on social media would be facing action.
We would like to remind the AG and the police that law making and law enforcement are serious matters that should not be taken on a whim, to be amended or enforced arbitrarily in order to protect the scandal-hit Prime Minister and his government from exposé or ridicule.
Whistle-blowing and journalism are not crimes to be prosecuted. While the world is moving towards more openness, transparency and accountability in the conduct of government affairs, it is quite deplorable how the AG thought fit to suggest such oppressive and disproportionate punishment for breach of the OSA.
Though we accept that certain information should be protected as “official secrets”, for example information relating to genuine issues of national defence or security, however when it comes to corruption or abuse of power, no moral government in this day and age can hide behind the pretext of “official secrets”.
Further, making or publishing “distorted,” satirical or even rude images of government leaders are not criminal in nature as there is nothing in the law that elevates the PM or government leaders to a special status beyond reproach, that mandates them to be “protected persons”. Their status in law is the same as any other ordinary person and they should likewise be treated equally as per Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.
The general and widely worded offence under section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is meant to protect ordinary individuals from serious online bullying, harassment or threats – certainly not to protect the PM or other authorities from public criticisms, ridicule or other “offensive” postings.
We wish to remind the AG and the police that they have a wider and more onerous duty to the nation and the Constitution, much more important than any sense of loyalty to the government of the day.
Respect for the PM and his government do not come from fear but from public confidence and this in turn depends wholly on their own conduct and integrity. If the authorities wish to stop “official secrets” from being leaked on corruption and abuse of power or images that ridicule the PM or other government leaders, they should try good governance for a change, one that is clean, fair and accountable to the people.
Lawyers for Liberty
For further information:
Off: 03-7960 5688
Mobile: 017-228 1973
E-mail: [email protected]