On 18 August, Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) officials raided the bookstore Toko Buku Rakyat in Kuala Lumpur and seized two book titles, Marx Sang Pendidik Revolusioner (Marx, the Revolutionary Educator) by Robin Smalls and Koleksi Puisi Masturbasi (the Masturbation Poetry Collection) by Benz Ali, who is also the owner of the bookstore. The confiscation was conducted under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA). The PPPA is being used by the government very conveniently and without any responsibility to respect the right to freedom of expression and information, and should be repealed, said ARTICLE 19.
“When authorities resort to raiding bookstores, it marks a disturbing regression in the landscape of intellectual freedom. Such actions cast a chilling effect on the pursuit of knowledge, stifling the open exchange of ideas and undermining the very essence of a democratic society that thrives on diverse perspectives and uninhibited discourse as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution,” said Senior Malaysia Programme Officer Nalini Elumalai. “The seizure of books under the pretext of regulatory frameworks, illustrates the convoluted dance between suppression and bureaucratic control, casting a shadow on the aspirations of a free society.”
The bookstore raid is not the first time this year that authorities have misused the PPPA to infringe on the freedom of expression or violate the principle of non-discrimination.
In May of this year, MOHA raided and seized the “Pride Collection” of Swatch watches in Malaysia. From 13 to 15 May 2023, the officials raided 16 Swatch stores across the country under Section 7 of the PPPA. Responding to these events, Swatch Group (Malaysia) filed a judicial review leave application on 24 June, directed at the MOHA chief secretary, the ministry’s enforcement division’s secretary, the home affairs minister, and the Malaysian government. On 9 August 2023, the Home Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution invoked his authority under Section 7 of the PPPA to issue a prohibition order against “Swatch Limited, Switzerland banning any publication related to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and +Plus (LGBTQ+) in any form appearing on Swatch watches of any collection including the boxes, wrappers, accessories or any other related things. On 23 August, the Kuala Lumpur High Court has granted leave for Swatch Group (Malaysia) to commence their legal challenge against the government.
Section 7 gives the Minister of Home Affairs ‘absolute discretion’ to ban any undesirable publication that is ‘in any manner prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is or is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial to or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest’. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly warned that the PPPA is incompatible with international human rights law and standards relating to freedom of expression and non-discrimination, as reiterated in its August 2023 joint submission ahead of the 2024 Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia before the UN Human Rights Council.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has emphasized the State responsibility ‘to ensure an environment in which a diverse range of political opinions and ideas can be freely and openly expressed and debated’. In its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, the government of Malaysia committed to review the PPPA in line with its international human rights obligations following recommendations from the Czech Republic, Georgia, and Ireland. Although in 2019, then Home Affairs Minister under the Pakatan Harapan government, Muhyiddin Yassin said the government was studying six laws with the view to amend or repeal, including the PPPA, however there has been no progress since. ARTICLE 19 strongly urges the government of Malaysia, who is also an elected member of the Human Rights Council for a term 2022 to 2024, to remain committed to the review of the PPPA in full consultation with the media, and civil society groups in Malaysia.
“The excessive manipulation of authority through the PPPA law casts a shadow on the pursuit of equality and equal protection under the law,” said Nalini. “It’s imperative to repeal and end the recurrent deployment of this law to ensure the safety of Malaysians, particularly marginalised communities. This approach not only suppresses freedom of expression but also sends a distressing message to those already facing discrimination. In a society that should promote inclusivity and respect, it’s crucial to critically assess the consequences of such actions on the well-being of all citizens.”
For more information
Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Programme Officer firstname.lastname@example.org.