In a democracy, it is said so that the common citizens has right to dissent, to criticise and even ridicule the people in power.
But — in a democracy — does not necessarily mean in Malaysia. Because its tag of a parliamentary democracy is almost a joke.
For Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy where the "democratically" elected government couldn't care less about upholding the basic principles of democracy.
Putrajaya's war on journalists and media houses critical of the government is a proof that it has no regard for freedom of the press. For dissent and/or criticism — however valid, is considered a punishable crime by the Malaysian government.
And the randomness with which the Malaysian police arrests people for writing stupid remarks on social media has cemented the belief among Malaysians that what they say online against the government or royalty is considered a bigger crime than the act of putting the lives of millions of citizens in danger by sabotaging the national security.
In any other democracy in the world, an act of dropping yellow balloons with the word Bersih imprinted on them in an event attended by the country's PM would not amount to much. But in Malaysia, it resulted in a prompt detainment and prosecution.
When cartoonists and graphic designers fed up with the rampant government corruption, come together and express their frustrations using their arts and cartoons, caricaturing their PM's face into that of a clown, ideally shouldn't amount to anything other than amusement. But in Malaysia, it becomes an issue of "national harmony".
The cartoonists are arrested. Their offices raided. Their work confiscated. The arrested cartoonists are charged with Sedition and whatnot, effectively cornered and silenced.
The bottom line is that Putrajaya is anti-dissent. So much so that it doesn't even seem to consider the profoundly negative impact its legal actions are having on the lives of its citizenry at large.
Take, for example, Muhammad Amirul Azwan Mohd Shakri, a 19-year-old from Tumpat, Kelantan, who worked as a labourer, before being sentenced to a 1-year jail term after he pleaded guilty to 14 counts of making insulting comments against the Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, popularly known as TMJ on social media.
Charged under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, where upon conviction, one can be fined not more than RM50,000 or jailed not more than 1-year or both, the Johor Baru Sessions Court Judge Sabariah Atan, strangely, saw fit to sentence this poor fellow — who was unrepresented by any defence attorney in his trial, a complete violation of his Constitutional rights — to the maximum sentence for basically being rude to TMJ on a social media platform.
This despite the boy requesting in his appeal for the court to lighten his sentence as he is from a poor family and promised not to commit the offence again.
Because the 19-year-old pleaded guilty to 14 counts of charges, he was sentenced to a year in jail for each of the 14 counts for allegedly hurting the Johor Crown Prince's "feelings" on Facebook
And what exactly did he post that was deemed so insulting for Judge Sabariah to sentence him to maximum imprisonment?
Apart from news sites repeating each other by saying they were derogatory remarks directed against the royal family and TMJ, it's not clear what exactly did he write.
Even Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan, while responding to the sentencing reportedly said that it's not state's business to ensure feelings of important people are not hurt, has criticised it
“This is clearly an error on the part of the Sessions Court judge. To say the sentence is excessive is an understatement. I am not sure if this is his first offence, but if it is, it should also be taken into account by the learned Sessions Court judge.
“Other mitigating factors such as his age and the fact that there is no 'victim' in this crime appear to not have been taken into account by the Sessions Court judge.”
“The biggest tragedy of all is that this boy is unrepresented. Something is wrong with the system if it has not been made known to this boy of his right to legal representation.
“There seems to be a trend these days where the authorities come down hard on those who 'insult' VIPs. Sorry, but it is not the State's business to regulate manners. It is also not the State's business to ensure feelings of important people are not hurt.”
Amidst all this, however, it is important to note here that the Johor Crown Prince had earlier asked the Malaysian police not to arrest people for insulting him online. Instead, TMJ had requested that the police arrange face-to-face meetings with his critics and him.
"Give them the privilege of saying what they want to say to my face, man to man," he was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini on 30 May 2016.
It now remains to be seen whether TMJ, who has often been vocal on Facebook against Putrajaya and even the police at times, will act on his previous request and do something concrete to obtain the 19-year-old's freedom and set a positive example.
Until that happens, the message the Government, the police, the judiciary and the people in a position of power in Malaysia wants to send out is clear: Do no speak up against us or we will jail you.
This story is the personal opinion of the writer.
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