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free3The New Strait Times reported Saturday, March 14th that six people were charged for insulting the Sultan of Perak via their blog or by posting comments on a websites. Apparently the government intends to charge others as well under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) “for making comments, demands, suggestions or communications which are vulgar, false, threatening or disturbing.”

These charges stem from comments that the aforementioned people made in response to the recent political crisis in Perak and the decision by HRH the Sultan of Perak to replace the menteri besar. If found guilty, they could be fined up to RM50,000 or be sentenced to a maximum of one year’s jail or both.

I am not sure just exactly what those charged had specifically written about His Royal Highness but I contend that in a democratic society, citizens are entitled to express their views on the actions of those who exercise political power on behalf of the people.

In Malaysia, the rulers are constitutional heads and exercise their powers in accordance with the constitution. With all due respect to their Royal Highnesses, their actions are not immune from comment or criticism. In the United Kingdom, the actions of the royal family, for example, are scrutinized and criticized regularly. This is as it should be in a democracy.

The law charging the six people for insulting His Royal Highness the Sultan of Perak is therefore undemocratic; it is a left over from our feudal past and has no place in modern Malaysia.

Behind all this, however, looms a larger issue – the penchant of the government to stifle dissent by any means available. The government has a long history of intolerance towards those who disagree with its actions and decisions, of which there is much to disagree. By charging those hapless bloggers under the CMA, the government is seeking to intimidate bloggers as a whole. I hope the Bar Council will come to the rescue of these bloggers and undertake a vigorous defence of our right to express an opinion on political issues without fear or favour and no matter who it may involve.

As well, how hypocritical of the government to now project themselves as defenders of the position of the Malay rulers. If there is anyone who had done more to undermine the position of the Malay rulers it is the government itself under its former leader, Dr. Mahathir. Where were all those royalists then? Why were they not out there demonstrating in defence of the Malay rulers?

Just goes to show that in politics, short memories and hypocrisy appear to go hand in hand.

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