Hanipa: Criminal defamation charge against journalist too harsh, extremely oppressive

Hanipa: Criminal defamation charge against journalist too harsh, extremely oppressive
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THE basis of true freedom is tolerance. Tolerance has nothing to do with endorsement of any view. And freedom is the sine qua non of any vibrant democracy.

When Pakatan Harapan (PH) was mandated by electorates to form the Government, one of its prime victories in promoting a new democracy was by repealing the Anti-Fake News Act.

Being a deputy minister of law, I was entrusted to present the repealing of the Act in Parliament.

On our first attempt to have it repealed, we were unsuccessful. Barisan Nasional senators in the upper house (Dewan Negara) voted against such an annulment.

Constitutionally speaking, we had to wait for a year in order to retable the repealing legislation. On our second attempt, we managed to have it repealed finally.

It was doubtless the Anti-Fake News Act was a menace to freedom of speech and expression duly enshrined in our apex law. Such a repressive law was not apt for a new mandated government which sought to promote a new democracy.

Assuming PH was still in power, it would have been nightmarish to even dream of seeing anyone, let alone any journalist, to be arraingned in court for criminal defamation.

Be that as it may, I am dumbfounded to learn the editor emeritus of The Edge being charged in court for criminal defamation under Section 500 of the Penal Code. To add salt to the injury, another journalist of the Edge, namely M Shanmugam, will be charged for the same offence soon.

It goes without saying that these two senior and superb jounalists are not ordinary journalists. Being journalists of The Edge, we may safely conclude that they belong to the elite group of journalists. Readership of this newspaper has been the corporate community, at least the majority of them.

We sincerely believe that the majority of investors — like it or not — would refer to The Edge before making a decision to invest or not to invest in our country.

Hence, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to be cognisant of the devastating repercussions for the investors' community — local and abroad — with the latest unprecendated and mind-boggling prosecution.

The Government may only see these two journalists as facing a mere criminal prosecution. Period. What they may fail to realise that the investors' fraternity is viewing the criminal indictment as oppresive PERSECUTION.

As pointed out earlier, the bedrock of democracy is freedom, and freedom is, without doubt, premised on tolerance. An Indian jurist used to say that in democracy, one is not required to sing the same song. I would add that in a true democracy, one has to tolerate even a lousy song. Therein lies the central theme of tolerance.

The entire basis of the law of defamation is the protection of one's dignity and reputation. It provides two-pronged remedies — civil and criminal defamation.

We may argue that criminal and civil defamations share common objectives. Nevertheless, we should never be oblivious to this truism, i.e the upshots of criminal and civil defamation are poles apart.

After all, we don't send any civil defamer to the prison. And how to get rid of a criminal record if any ordinary people, let alone journalists, are convicted of criminal libel?

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin
Member of Parliament for Sepang
Sept 15, 2022

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