Malaysian parliamentarians pledge to combat hate speech and strengthen freedom of expression

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KUALA LUMPUR – Lawmakers from the Parliament of Malaysia pledged to use their mandate to tackle hate speech and strengthen respect for the right to freedom of expression. 

“Today, hate speech has not only become a serious threat to freedom of opinion and expression, but has also led to devastating acts of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity.” 

“As parliamentarians we have a unique role to play in combating hate speech and disinformation. We can use our influence and public stature to promote mutual respect and understanding towards others,” said Kasthuri Patto, APHR Member and Malaysian MP, a victim of hate speech herself. 

On 5 July 2019, together with the Rights and Gender Equality Special Select Committee of the Malaysian Parliament, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the International Center for Not-for profit Law (ICNL), ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) hosted a roundtable on “Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech and Internet Regulation in Malaysia” at the Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur. 

The event provided an opportunity for Members of Parliament (MPs) and key stakeholders from civil society to assess the progress of the government’s reform agenda and identify steps forward to further promote the right to freedom of expression along with addressing challenges caused by hate speech.

One year since the Pakatan Harapan government came to power, parliamentarians are concerned that repressive laws used to criminalize critical voices remain on the books.

“Lawmakers must work closely with key government departments to update our laws to enhance freedom of expression. We need to ensure that Malaysian laws on freedom of expression, hate speech, and media freedom comply with international standards,” said Charles Santiago, APHR Board Chair and Malaysian Parliamentarian.

Among the laws that were identified by the MPs as placing undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression that should be repealed or amended were the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act, and the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Participants also discussed the need for greater transparency in the legislative process. This included the need to institutionalize a more structured engagement between government agencies, parliament and civil society. 

“In the past, engagement between parliamentarians and civil society was done on an ad hoc basis. We must do better in our new Malaysia. There needs to be a formal framework for regular and meaningful engagement with civil society organizations and the general public. This is key in a functioning democracy and to ensure transparency,” said Jerald Joseph, Commissioner of SUHAKAM, urging the MPs to engage with SUHAKAM and civil society organizations for advice on the discussed laws.

Source: APHR

Desi Hanara