Storm Erupts Over AG Apandi's Threat Of A Stringent OSA Against Whistleblowers

"The A-G will become a lightning rod for public anger."

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There's a huge storm brewing after Malaysia's top prosecutor, Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi's proposal to make amendments to OSA, saying that the Act can be used against journalists and editors found to have published leaked information

Speaking exclusively to Sin Chew Daily, A-G Apandi had reportedly said: "We may charge journalists who refuse to reveal their sources. I am not joking. If I have 90 percent of evidence, I will charge the journalist, editor, assistant editor and editor-in-chief. I am serious, no kidding," adding that the government has seen "too many leakages of secrets in Malaysia. The right to know is not granted by the constitution."

Image via Sin Chew Daily

"Amendments will make us a complete dictatorship"

Amendments to strengthen the Official Secrets Act (OSA) proposed by attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali will turn Malaysia into a dictatorship, said veteran lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan.

"This is not about protecting sensitive security information but about not allowing the truth to emerge about corruption and abuse of power of those in the high echelons of power. Any such amendments will make us a complete dictatorship," Ambiga told Malaysiakini.

Ambiga, who is former Bar Council chairperson, slammed the move against the media and urged the public to protest attempts to "muzzle the press".

"Without a robust international and domestic press, the public would be clueless about a massive financial scandal and its perpetrators," she said.

"Amending the OSA is against what PM Najib stands for"

"Any disproportionate enhancement of punishment would contradict the prime minister’s position as 'a prime minister of a progressive, liberal nation'; as declared in his (Najib's) opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 October 2011," Lim told Malaysiakini.

Lim, who is also a former Bar Council chairperson, said that life imprisonment for whistleblowing is justifiable in cases such as when Malaysia's defence strategy is leaked and harms the country.

"However, if the secret is evidence of misappropriation of government/retirement funds by a prime suspect, then the punishment not only does not match the crime, it is not a crime at all but a whistleblower act, a praiseworthy not punishable act," he added.

"A-G Apandi will become a lightning rod for public anger"

The PKR MP cautioned the AG against proceeding with his plan, saying that he will become a lightning rod for public anger if he does seek to punish whistle-blowers in the manner proposed.

“This will obviously be seen as an attempt to stifle any expose on any wrongdoings by the Barisan Nasional government in the future.” Rafizi urged the Attorney-General to immediately drop such intentions as it would only “increase the people’s anger”.

PKR Secretary-General Rafizi Ramli will launch a social media campaign to reject Attorney-General Apandi's proposal for stricter punishment under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA). The Pandan MP said the proposal must be nipped in the bud as it indicated PM Najib Razak's slide towards authoritarianism to stifle his critics.

An embattled Najib Razak is accused by the opposition of trying to silence his critics.

Image via AFP

“I shall begin a campaign on social media to obtain the support of Malaysians to reject the proposed amendments and demand the A-G act freely, transparently, and fairly. Since the proposed amendments are a form of oppression of journalists and media freedom, I believe this will become an international issue that will worsen Najib’s image in the eyes of the world,” Rafizi said in a statement today.

“He proposed the amendment at a time when his credibility as the A-G is at an all-time low, after having decided to close investigations into the RM2.6 billion transferred into Najib’s accounts," Rafizi Ramli claimed, adding "Of course, the proposed amendments are seen as further efforts to stop any exposes on the Barisan Nasional government’s wrongdoings or misappropriation.”

Criticising the Attorney-General, the National Oversight & Whistleblowers (NOW) Director Akmal Nasir said the proposal to punish whistleblowers and journalists who report on the government's mismanagement is to directly protect the people who commit the wrongdoings that are leaked to the public

“Information leaks on the abuse of power, leakages, and breach of trust only occur when there is a loss of faith in the related organisation. The failures of reforms and prevention are what cause whistle-blowers to seek alternative channels.

“Most leaks are made for the public’s interest and are capable of stopping a repeat of the incident exposed,” said NOW director Akmal Nasir.

He added that attempts to obfuscate government dealings via the Official Secrets Act (OSA) in the current era was parochial and counter to the public’s demand for greater transparency in the age of information.

National Oversight and Whistle-blowers director Akmal Nasir.

Image via The Malaysian Insider

The NOW Director made a name for himself back in 2015, when the whistleblowers group exposed documents alleging financial misappropriation by the state-linked YAPEIM.

Akmal remains confident that NOW would be able to carry on its work even if Apandi's plans to amend the OSA materialises.

"Even when faced by challenges, including legal pressure, NOW will still remain relevant to the public as long as corruption, leakages, and abuse of power continue in this country," he said.

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