Malaysian Royalty has come under heavy attack over the use of security agencies to oppress the people by denying them their freedom of speech.
This comes after three people were arrested in in the country for allegedly insulting the former king on social media after his shock abdication, sparking anger Thursday from activists at the use of “draconian” laws. The former King, Sultan Muhammad V, stepped aside at the weekend after just two years on the throne. No official reason was given, but it came after he reportedly married a Russian ex-beauty queen while on medical leave.
It was the first time a Malaysian monarch had given up the throne before the end of his term. Under a unique arrangement, the throne changes hands every five years between the rulers of the nine states headed by Islamic royalty.
National police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said two men aged 46 and 27, and a 26-year-old woman, were arrested under tough sedition laws Tuesday for allegedly posting insulting remarks about the abdication on Facebook and Twitter. The trio face up to three years in jail if found guilty.
While their role is ceremonial, Muslim-majority Malaysia’s royalty command great respect, and criticising them is seen as deeply offensive. People are regularly arrested under the colonial-era sedition act for insulting royals.
But Latheefa Koya, executive director of rights group Lawyers for Liberty, criticised the arrests, saying: “The police should not give in to mob rule amid the push by some people for the authorities to act.”
A statement from the group, which pushes for legal reforms, added that the sedition act was a “draconian piece of legislation” and it was shocking Malaysia’s new administration was using it. The government, which came to power last year after ousting an authoritarian regime, had pledged in its election manifesto to abolish the act and several other laws seen as repressive but is yet to do so.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also suggested authorities should not overzealously target people accused of posting insults. “With regards to freedom of speech, if someone speaks factually, you cannot criminalise the person,” he said. “If we shut everyone’s mouth … even when a crime has happened, then there will be injustice in the country.”
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