Dian Abdullah, who writes the independent Malaysia FlipFlop blog, had posted criticism of the King and Prime Minister. She stated, for instance, that “[t]hanks to [the King] we have the most dangerous man” as Prime Minister and suggested that the Prime Minister was allowing “the rise in food cost and mask[s]” to be used as “an excuse to make money out of the [people] in this period of crisis.” On this basis, she was charged with two offenses: making statements “with intent to cause, or that may cause, fear or unrest to the public” and “offensive communication.”
This kind of political speech is protected under international human rights standards. And yet the only evidence presented to date by the authorities to justify the prosecution (apart from pointing to the posts themselves) is the testimony of a police officer who thought that one of the posts might cause “discomfort” and the testimony of a second officer who said that one of the posts was “derogatory and nasty.”
Dian Abdullah’s trial, which is being monitored by CFJ’s partner the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights as part of TrialWatch, is just one example of an alarming surge in speech prosecutions in Malaysia under the Perikatan Nasional government. In another trial monitored by TrialWatch, an independent news outlet was recently held in contempt for critical third-party comments posted to its site. After its editor-in-chief—who had also been a defendant in the contempt case—criticized the decision, he was swiftly brought in for questioning on potential sedition charges.
Other critics of the government have, like Dian Abdullah, been charged with “offensive communication.” Article 19 and CIVICUS have also documented that 250 individuals have been investigated by Malaysian authorities in the past year for allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ about COVID-19. And just this month, Malaysia adopted a new ‘fake news’ ordinance with criminal penalties, which purports to apply worldwide.
Stephen Townley, Legal Director of the TrialWatch initiative, said: “Political speech that causes ‘discomfort’ should not be prosecuted. Instead of adding to its tally of prosecutions based on vague laws, Malaysia should dismiss the charges against Dian Abdullah and make good on its offer to review some of the legislation at issue.”