KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 — Putrajaya’s latest attempt to tighten secrecy laws here would only frighten away future whistleblowers, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) warned today as it pleaded with federal lawmakers against passing the law amendment in Parliament.
LFL co-founder Eric Paulsen said in a statement here that the proposed amendment to the Penal Code was merely the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s “knee-jerk and undemocratic” reaction to stop all future exposes of incriminating information that could potentially hurt the administration.
“Lawyers For Liberty is appalled,” he said.
“The proposed amendment is so widely drafted, it is scarcely believable.
“But the severity of this odious amendment being passed as law cannot be overstated.”
Paulsen argued that the amendment, which will see a brand new Section 203A added to the Penal Code, would effectively shield all information and documents deemed official, without needing such classification under the existing Official Secrets Act 1972.
“This would mean any information on scandalous issues such as the NFC, and Scorpene submarines would no longer be legally accessible to the public & whistleblowers will be punished severely while the wrongdoers will be protected,” he said.
Paulsen was referring to the RM250 million National Feedlot Centre (NFC) cattle-farming controversy, a major scandal uncovered by federal opposition lawmakers that was found to have links to a senior Cabinet minister.
“This amendment is certainly more oppressive than the OSA which at the very least requires a process of certification by a minister before a document is deemed ‘restricted’ under the act,” he added.
“We therefore call for all parties – MPs, opposition, civil society, the Malaysian Bar to oppose this amendment, if passed, would effectively turn Malaysia into a nightmare Kafkaesque secret state not unlike that depicted in G.Orwell’s 1984,” he said.
Paulsen was responding to reports of the Bill that is expected to be tabled in Parliament this week, which will effectively criminalise the act of unlawfully disseminating information and punish officers who dare to release such information with a maximum fine of one million ringgit or a year imprisonment or both.
PKR lawmaker N. Surendran had told Putrajaya to stop its plan to table the amendment yesterday, saying it would only create a law even more restrictive than the OSA.
“This provision is unprecedented in any modern democracy; and is more suited to one-party states such as North Korea.
“With this provision, the BN is dragging Malaysia further into the dark ages. Why does the BN government need such an stifling and undemocratic law? What do they want to hide from the public?,” the Padang Serai MP was quoted as saying in a report on Malaysiakini.
The first-term parliamentarian pointed out that unlike the OSA, which views only certain information classified by the minister or his agents as secret, Section 203A sees everything as restricted information.
“This provision is clearly intended to prevent the public from obtaining information that can expose corruption, financial scandals and mismanagement by the BN government,” he said.
The federal opposition have long campaigned against the OSA, which they argue have been abused by the Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership to hide excesses and mismanagement in the government.