#Stop114A: It’s no longer about the law, it’s about government
By A. Asohan August 17, 2012
- Despite PM’s call for a review, Cabinet decides controversial law to stay as is
- DNA reinstates ‘Internet Blackout Day’ pop-up to protest disregard for rakyat’s concerns
ON Aug 14, cyberspace heavyweights, civil society, Internet-related businesses, private individuals including many ‘A-list’ bloggers, news portals such as Digital News Asia and Malaysiakini, as well as leaders from both sides of the political divide, took part in a campaign to protest or express their concern over a recently-gazetted piece of legislation.
This took place in the form of an ‘Internet Blackout Day’ pop-up public message announcement displayed on many websites and blogs, while others went a step further to shutter their portals entirely.
The Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012, or Section 114A, would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the Internet economy in the country, opponents have said.
The Stop114A campaign’s ‘Internet Blackout Day’, spearheaded by the Center of Independent Journalism (CIJ) and which found coverage in international media such as the BBC, Forbes and Radio Australia, was described as having exceeded expectations. Not only did it see a large and varied subsection of Malaysian society united in a common cause, it did enough to actually impinge itself on the awareness of government leaders.
After having ignored on-going protests and expressions of concerns since the amendment was first read in Parliament on April 10 to go ahead and gazette the law on July 31, the government finally took notice.
On the night of Aug 14 itself, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who was overseas at the time, tweeted that he had instructed Cabinet to have another look at the law. National news agency Bernama, on reporting his directive, described it as Najib once again proving “that his government regards the people's views as top priority.”
That euphoria and belief that the Government pays the slightest regard to the views of the rakyat (citizenry) did not last even a measly 24 hours. Cabinet met, and in a two-hour discussion that possibly included other matters, decided to disregard the views of the rakyat and many technical and legal experts to go ahead anyway.
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim told reporters that Cabinet did have that meeting as instructed by the Prime Minister, and had “concluded that it was a fair decision as it was brought to Parliament and was debated for four hours by the Opposition as well as the Government,” The Star quoted him as saying.
We’re also now told that the amendment, originally pitched as a counter to online defamation and sedition, was formulated to combat cybercrimes and terrorism since the repeal or review of other laws such as the draconian Internal Security Act had left a gap
In not so many words, Rais – who is currently embroiled in a defamation suit with a blogger – is telling us that:
- De facto Law Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, when he tabled it in Parliament for its first reading on April 10, had misrepresented the intent of the amendment;
- Najib’s reform agenda is strictly an exercise in public relations and involves merely putting old wine such as the ISA in new bottles;
- Either Najib was not sincere in his call for Cabinet to review the law, or that Cabinet has manned up and is defying the Prime Minister;
- Government knows best, and the rest of us should just stand aside and let it govern with carte blanche – it is the boss of us, after all;
- A law with far-reaching and tremendous implications for the nation’s aspirations to become fully-developed by 2020 can be first proposed, and within a matter of five or six working days, be dissected, researched, discussed and decided upon after a mere four-hour debate in Parliament – by Members of Parliament who were already saddled with a raft of new legislations to consider and analyze (in the true spirit of Malaysia Boleh, we can make laws faster than any other nation on Earth); and
- If this process of governance and law-making works for tinpot dictatorships, it’s okay for a burgeoning democracy like Malaysia’s.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek did not fare better than Rais, saying that the Government “needed to assure the public that Section 114A of the Act would not be abused.”
Unfortunately, since the Evidence Act covers both criminal and civil cases, the Government’s assurance – if you can trust that after all this – is not enough. How are you going to stop other parties, such as companies trying to silence dissatisfied customers, from abusing this badly-worded legislation when even lawyers are having trouble grappling with it?
According to The Star report above, Dr Chua “also ticked off the Opposition for ‘political dishonesty,’ saying they should have voiced their objection during the debate in Parliament and requested for a division of vote.”
“It was debated and passed in Parliament without calling for block voting. In other words, they (the Opposition) went along with it,” he said.
Dr Chua, like Rais and too many other leaders in the Government and Opposition, are under the mistaken belief that Parliament is a venue for political grandstanding and airing their problems with each other. It is not – it is for law-making. It is not the arena for you guys to play out your childish feuds with each other.
Hullo, all of you – it’s not about you and who gets to Putrajaya after the next election, it’s about us, the people of Malaysia. There is a reason why governance comes from the same root as government.
It is for these reasons and more that Digital News Asia decided to reinstate the Internet Blackout Day over the weekend, at the risk of annoying our faithful readers: To send them all a clear message that you cannot make laws for a people without considering their views at all.
Enough is enough.