PETALING JAYA:The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is calling on the government to review Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.
According to the statement from CIJ, Section 233 should comply with Article 10 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression as well as international human rights standards on freedom of expression.
This was in response to the recent maximum jail sentence of one year imposed on Chow Mun Fai for posting offensive remarks on Facebook.
Agreeing that Chow’s disparaging remarks about Islam and Hari Raya were “undoubtedly crass and insensitive” Sonia Randhawa, director of CIJ said the offence still did not warrant such a heavy sentence.
Stressing that CIJ does not condone “hate speech”, Randhawa added, “Whether Chow’s opinions constitute hate speech, however, is debatable – he did not advocate violence, his remarks were aimed at expressing his own ill-formed opinions, rather than inciting others to do the same.”
She said, “The most serious penalties should be reserved for instances where a clear intention to incite discrimination, hostility or violence through advocacy of racial or religious hatred can be shown.”
Randhawa explained that Section 233 was “unspecific and arbitrary” because it considered even the posting of offensive content that “annoy” another person, a crime.
She explained, “Whether or not a person has been annoyed is extremely subjective.”
She also drew attention to the tendency to refer to “hurt feelings” when charges were brought under Section 233.
“Hurting another person’s feelings is not listed as an offence under Section 233,” said Randhawa who added that there should be a “further element of incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence that must be.”
Randhawa also said that “greater specificity” on exactly what kind of speech was prohibited would protect citizens’ right to freedom of expression while also ensuring that those who used hate speech to incite hostility and violence were adequately punished.