SSRANZ: Recent parlimentary Q&A “blunt attack” on freedom of speech

Robert Pei

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KUCHING, July 4: Sabah Sarawak Rights — Australia New Zealand (SSRANZ) president Robert Pei says the recent question-and-answer between Paya Besar MP Mohamad Shahar Abdullah and Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Marzuki Yahya in Parliament is “a blunt attack on the freedom of speech which Prime Minister (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) has held up as a defining democratic principle for Malaysia Baru”.

The exchange between the two was captured in a video clip where Shahar asked the question of what the Malaysian government would do to NGOs like SSRANZ which is registered in Australia but “giving Malaysia a bad name”.

Marzuki in reply said action would be taken on the basis of police reports made against SSRANZ members who were critical of the government on their return home.

Responding to the video clip, Pei said the statement made by the deputy minister was most imprecise. He called on Marzuki to clarify as to what acts or statements that may result in someone being charged for a breach of Malaysian law for being “critical”.

“If this (clarification) is not done, this would only create a climate of fear and uncertainty of government repression against many activist groups at home and abroad,” said Pei in a statement yesterday.

Pei stated that as SSRANZ president he is solely responsible for any statements issued under the NGO’s name in relation to public legal political comments.

He stated categorically that SSRANZ is a legally registered NGO in Australia and its members are entitled to make fair comment on issues that affect them at home or abroad.

Pei said that there are two separate issues raised by the deputy minister against SSRANZ which are incorrect and/or misinformed.

“The first one is the deputy minister’s allegation that (SSRANZ) members were simply making (critical political) statements to justify their applications for protection visas in Australia. This shows he lacked any appreciation of what is happening to these people.

“This mainly involved people who were ‘non-political’ and mostly in desperate social-economic situations making applications as a means to seek a better life in Australia or at least make and save enough money to go home eventually.”

The second issue, according to Pei, is the deputy minister’s assumption that the accused persons are presumed ‘guilty’ as well as the latter’s failure to explain what type of criticisms are “unlawful”.

“One could only assume he meant those broadly mentioned in the archaic and controversial Sedition Act 1948 which was to be repealed but instead amended in 2015.”

“This law is most uncertain and imprecise and an irresponsible police report made against someone would result in unfair and unjustified charges made against him or her.

“This culture of making ‘police reports’ is rampant in Malaysia and is most undesirable and undemocratic as this has subjected many social activists to be interrogated for politically motivated false accusations,” said Pei.

He also pointed out that it is arguable that the Sedition Act could be applied to the Borneo states because of the current confusion about their unresolved status in Malaysia.

The confusion has arisen as whether the Federal Constitution (FC) includes Sabah and Sarawak in the federation as its definition in Article 160 is not specific.

The SSRANZ president said that the Deputy Foreign Minister’s comment was therefore shocking and an appalling throwback to the five decades of dark grim days of harsh political repression under the Internal Security Act 1960 before it was repealed in 2012.

He said it was very disappointing that this event in Parliament has been staged under the Pakatan Harapan government which won the GE14 elections only over a year ago on the platform of restoring democracy and freedom of speech and this right was re-confirmed by the Prime Minister recently.

As a Sarawak-born person, Pei said he strongly defends his right to comment on issues of grave concerns in his birth country and also on Sabah affairs represented by the SSRANZ. — DayakDaily