Malaysia: Arrests for alleged insults to race and religion demonstrate need for legal reform

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the recent arrest of four individuals in relation to social media posts touching on issues of race and religion. A statement by the Director of the Criminal Investigation Department asserted that the detainees—three men and a woman—were being investigated for possible violations of the Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act. According to the statement, the relevant social media posts included language insulting to Islam, prophets and the Malay people, and remarks that constitute a breach of the peace.

ARTICLE 19 has consistently called for the reform of the Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act, and reported on the use of these and other laws to restrict freedom of expression.

Commenting on the arrests, ARTICLE 19 said:

“These arrests are further evidence of the need to reform or repeal the restrictive provisions that are scattered across Malaysia’s legal framework. The overly broad provisions in the Penal Code and CMA are ripe for abuse. Investigations and prosecutions seem to ebb and flow according to popular sentiment and the whims of the authorities.

“Malaysia needs to abandon the idea that the mere act of causing offense is justification for arrest and prosecution. This approach has no place in a democratic society and is antithetical to the right to freedom of expression.

“The arbitrary and inconsistent application of criminal law is alarming, to say the least, and underscores the government’s willingness to suppress unpopular speech. The Pakatan Harapan coalition’s promises to reform repressive laws seem to recede further into the distance with every new arrest.”

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