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Radio station presenters face investigation under Malaysia's Sedition Act

This statement was originally published on cijmalaysia.org on 19 December 2014.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed and dismayed that as 2014 draws to a close, the Sedition Act is still very much in existence and continues to be used to repress legitimate expression and debate.

The most recent persons to be investigated under this draconian act are five presenters from radio station Business FM 89.9 (BFM), against whom police reports have been made, reportedly in relation to discussions on air on 12 December 2014 with regard to Islam.

The police report against the BFM presenters by Muslims groups including the Malaysia Islamic Consumers Association (PPIM) and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) allege that BFM has a strategy to create a liberal country. This would purportedly "destroy the integrity of Islam and create confusion among the people."

Firstly, from BFM's 19 December 2014 statement on the matter, it appears that the facts alleged in the police report against the BFM presenters are incorrect and false.

Moreover, CIJ's view is that in the current environment where religious sentiments are frequently played upon by certain individuals and organisations, it is precisely the kind of moderated, informed and reasoned debates facilitated by BFM that is needed. BFM has provided a platform where different views can be aired and discussed. Shutting down such debate will only lead to a further polarisation of views and breeds an environment which is more susceptible to the escalation of tensions between adherents of different religions.

The fact that there may be those who disagree with or feel offended by the views aired on BFM is not a reason in itself to open investigation papers against BFM and its presenters. It does not appear that any of the presenters advocated hatred and violence against any ethnicity or religious adherents that would warrant police investigation.

If the prime minister and his government are serious in portraying Malaysia as a moderate Muslim country, it should encourage healthy debate, including on religious issues. This is a critical pillar of a functioning democracy. Islamic precepts are cited as a source of law in Malaysia, and are frequently used by politicians in their rhetoric. It is extremely one-sided if only the ruling party and its representatives are allowed to set the agenda on when and how issues relating to Islam can be discussed, to the exclusion of everyone else. Rather than limiting information and discussion, there is a need to trust the knowledge and capacity of Malaysians to be able to assess different opinions and views and participate in public debate. This is part of their civil and political rights, and in fact, responsibility as citizens.

CIJ thus calls on all investigations against BFM and its presenters to be dropped and for the government to respect media freedom and the freedom of expression. It also reiterates that the Sedition Act, which is notoriously broad, should be repealed without delay, as promised by the prime minister.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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