Stifling free speech can stunt nation’s growth, ex-top judge cautions


Source: Malay Mail Online

Mohamed Dzaiddin said that silencing criticism would be detrimental to the country’s overall progress. Pic by The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — Putrajaya should not resort to “dubious laws” to curb free speech if Malaysia is to grow as a nation, Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah said.

The retired chief justice added that silencing criticism would be detrimental to the country’s overall progress as citizens “must be free to point out abuses, corruption, injustices, and any unhealthy happenings and to hold leaders accountable”.

“To progress as a nation, there must be space for dialogue and legitimate opposing views, both online and offline, without the use of dubious laws to clamp down on them.

“Freedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility, without hurting the convictions of another,” the chancellor of Wawasan Open University said in his speech at its convocation last Thursday.A copy of the speech was made available today by local think tank the Institute for Democratic and Economic Affairs, of which Dzaiddin is now a special adviser.

The former judge did not elaborate on which laws he considered to be “dubious”, emphasising instead that free speech for the people’s benefit “is always the right thing to do”.

However, he also said those who spread hate speech especially using race or religion should not be tolerated.

“However, we must not tolerate those who spew hateful speech and violent protests in the name of race and religion. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility for the peace and harmony of the nation,” Dzaiddin said.

The government has used several laws including the Sedition Act as well as the Communications and Multimedia Act to crack down on government critics, especially those who vent through social media.

There have been a number of arrests and prosecution cases in recent years where those who post disparaging comments against ministers and the royal institution on Facebook and other social media applications have landed in jail.