Our rights deserve a broader perspective — Azmi Sharom


Source: The Star Online


Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher.

THE anti-fake news law has already been much criticised for its vagueness and broadness and, due to that, its potential to be a potent threat to free speech and the freedom of the press.

I won’t therefore add to that line of argument.

Neither would I dwell on the disingenuous argument that anyone who does not support the new Act supports fake news. That is too facile to dignify with a response.

I would like, however, to state that I find it difficult to justify the law from a legal perspective. The Constitution states that Parliament may make laws that restrict free speech if the purpose is to protect national security, public order and morals.

There has been nothing to show that this phenomenon of fake news requires such an action. Apart from mere conjecture and political rhetoric, no proof has been offered to convince us that our national security, public order and morality are threatened in any way.

There is a reason the Constitution lists the circumstances in which freedom of speech and expression may be curtailed by Parliament.

Without some sort of limitation on the powers of the legislature, freedom of expression is merely illusory.

Our freedoms cannot be justifiably reduced based on political hot air. There has to be much more than that.

Furthermore, looking further afield, international law sets the standard regarding laws that restrict our rights. It says that there ought to be a presumption of freedom.

In other words, freedom is deemed as the ideal and anything that limits it has to be properly justified.

In my view, this has not occurred with regard to the Anti-Fake News Act.

Staying on the topic of international standards, it is also stated that any law that controls speech has to be proportional. Considering we have laws aplenty that can control the so-called fake news (namely the Sedition Act, Defamation Act, Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act, to name a few), what we have here is a case of overkill and definitely not proportional.

Another thing I want to look at is the move by the Registrar of Societies (RoS) to temporarily disband Parti Pribumi Bersatu. This is not the first time that an opposition party has trouble getting official recognition.

It took a decade and a court battle for Parti Sosialis Malaysia to be registered with the RoS as a political party.

After that, the Election Commission had an issue with the party’s logo. The clenched fist symbol – widely used to represent socialism – “has connotations of violence”, it seems.

Again, I refer to international standards. Of course, it is perfectly all right to have some sort of administrative measure to register societies and the like. However, if these measures are improperly conducted, then there is strong argument to say that it is breaching the right of association.

Unreasonable bureaucracy and delay is deemed as an unacceptable curb on this freedom.

There you have it. These two developments, in my opinion, breach the Constitution and international law. And these are things that we ought to be concerned about.

Azmi Sharom is a law teacher.