A disabled man has been sentenced to 6 months imprisonment by the Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Terengganu for attempted suicide. It was reported that he is depressed. Rights groups, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) and Hakam, urged the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to review the case immediately. LFL director Melissa Sasidaran pointed out that the man was not represented by a lawyer and the prosecution was not in line with the government’s intent to decriminalise suicide; Hakam suggested the man be given psychiatric assistance instead. De facto law minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong also expressed concern about the worrying verdict. He affirmed that the AGC has been studying the decriminalisation of suicide and was hopeful that amendments to the law will be tabled by the middle of 2020.
2. Gobind: no need for new anti-fake news law
Communications and Multimedia Media Minister Gobind Singh Deo said there is no need for new anti-fake news law to deal with those who spread false information regarding the Wuhan virus outbreak. Thus far, six people have been arrested for the offence of spreading fake news about the outbreak.
Also, there have been at least 10 viral messages about the coronavirus which has been proven to be fake. Minister Gobind Singh mentioned that the police will work with Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to identify the owner of the social media account and the police will deal with the report.
3. “11 men charged for attempting sex: what you need to know”
Last November, the news of five men being charged for attempting ‘unnatural sex’ by the Selangor Syariah High Court went viral in Malaysia. However, there were actually 11 men in total who were charged and they have been abused throughout the ordeal.
It was alleged that during the raid, (i) the Islamic Religious Department of Selangor (JAIS) and the National Anti-Drugs Agency forced all of them to pose full-frontal nude and took photos of them, (ii) forced the men to remain nude throughout the entire raid of over 2 hours, (iii) JAIS tried to force a confession out of the men while they were naked. In addition, JAIS did not have an arrest warrant nor the police present during the raid, instead called news reporters and their crew, increasing the humiliation and trauma. Check out more at Queerlapis.com.
4. Calls for public pressure on Pakatan Harapan to abolish the UUCA this year
Members of a working committee made up of student activists to study the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) were removed from their positions without proper explanation and procedure. It was said that the decision was final and new appointees would be announced soon. This incident confirmed worries that Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now the interim education minister, would curtail the progress of reforms for more academic freedom.
In response, student activists have called upon the public to pressure the government to carry though its promise of abolishing the UUCA this year. The Gerakan Pembebasan Akademik (GPA) representatives also called for more transparency about the plan to dismantle the contentious law.
5. Two Indonesian Women Rescued From Forced Labour
Two Indonesian women approached the immigration enforcement team and asked for help during an integrated operation at a traditional medicine shop in Lebuh Pantai, Penang. It is believed that they have been forced to work exceeding 12 hours a day and not paid the monthly salary of RM 1,000 as promised.
Penang Immigration director Muhamad Husni Mahmud said the case is being investigated under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007. Upon investigation, Husni said the two women were only allowed to sleep on the floor on the ground floor of the premises and any contact with anyone outside will receive reprimand and warning from their employer.
India’s parliament has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on 11 December 2019, and this has amended the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law, which currently prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens.
CAA creates an expedited path to citizenship for migrants from three countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan — who illegally entered India by 2014, provided they belong to six religions. The religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Notably absent from the list: Islam, the religion practiced by about 200 million of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, according to The Washington Post.
The Indian government says the law is a humanitarian method to tackle the problems faced by the religious minorities in the three neighbouring countries. Such communities have faced difficulties in the above-mentioned countries, which are all Muslim-majority nations.
According to BBC news, opponents of the bill say the law is exclusionary and violates the secular principles enshrined in the constitution. The constitution prohibits religious discrimination against its citizens, and guarantees all persons equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
The Deputy Minister of Communications and Multimedia Eddin Syazlee Shith announced that the Cabinet has agreed in principle to establish the Malaysian Media Council.
According to Free Malaysia Today, the Malaysian Media Council has been proposed as a self-regulatory body that can set high standards for the media community to help build and maintain public confidence in the industry and to act as an arbitration body between the people and the media for the benefit of all Malaysians. It also safeguards the welfare of media practitioners in the country.
In another matter, Mr. Shith also warned against circulating inaccurate information on social media about the flood situation affecting Johor, Pahang and Melaka because that would cause unnecessary worry among the public. He advised to keep abreast with the news released by official government media such as Bernama and RTM.
Establishment of this particular council was promised in Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto in GE14. Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) welcomed this decision and Malaysia’s improved press freedom rankings but highlighted challenges that the media faced under the Harapan administration.
“Self-regulation based on a journalism code of ethics should be the catalyst towards a new media landscape in a new Malaysia,” said Geramm.
At a recent Q&A session organised by local students involved in the protest movement for overseas HKU students, it is said that some international students were planning to leave Hong Kong. It is speculated that this is because the protest has lasted for too long.
Malaysian student Celia Cheng’s (pseudonym) first semester in HK began with being tear-gassed outside parliament and ended with her evacuation from campus. She said she supported the cause and was curious about the protests, but did not tell her family about her participation, because they see the protests as “useless” and support China as a strong economic power. Besides, she said if her family does not allow her to go back to Hong Kong, she might need to defer her studies.
In fact, many exchange students were also called back by their home countries and institutions, while some students from mainland China at CUHK were evacuated in a police boat.
In an effort to help with the situation, Taiwan’s education ministry announced any students fleeing the HK protests could register with Taiwanese universities to continue their studies, according to Malay Mail.
On Dec 19, the Qatar Fund For Development (QFFD) humanitarian clinic was officially launched and it’s the first clinic specially for refugees in Malaysia. The clinic located in Ampang was launched by Qatar Charity (QC) and Yayasan Kebajikan Negara (YKN).
In a press conference speech, YKN CEO Datin Paduka Che Asmah Ibrahim hopes that with this clinic, it can prevent disease complications and avoid overcrowding at government hospitals. It also aims to effectively address potential public health problems such as disease outbreaks.
According to CodeBlue, in the next three years, another four clinics offering primary health care services to refugees will be opened in various locations in peninsular Malaysia. The project will be run by medical relief organisations — Mercy Malaysia, Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia, and Malaysian Relief Agency — with support from the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
There are over 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur, with many more unregistered according to The Star.
This project is designed to reinforce UNHCR services by bringing healthcare to refugees who are unable to seek the care needed due to various circumstances such as being bedridden, poverty, lack of transportation and lack of knowledge.
In light with the rise of minimum monthly wages to RM1,200 in major towns under 57 city and municipality councils in 2020, a union leader advised coffee shop workers to file claims for constructive dismissal if free meals and accommodation are to be stopped by their employers.
Sarawak Bank Employees Union (SBEU) chief executive officer Andrew Lo was responding to a statement made by the Kuching Coffeeshop and Restaurant Owners Association that their members will stop providing accommodation and meals for their workers, effective next year, following the increase in the minimum wage.
“Stopping existing accommodations and meals is to existing workers is a clear breach of contract… Those business that cannot afford to pay the minimum wage have no business to be in business and should close shop,” Lo further stated.
The Human Resources Ministry said the federal government had made a decision in increasing the minimum monthly wages on December 18 and this would take effect from January 1, 2020 for all employers.
“MOHR had said the minimum wage rate would continue to be reviewed to ensure it was in line with current needs and in line with the objective of achieving a minimum wage of RM1,500 a month in first five years of Pakatan Harapan’s administration,” as stated in Malay Mail.
An increase of minimum wages may be good news for employees in Malaysia but that doesn’t mean that their basic labour rights (as stated in their contracts) should be neglected. Balance should be struck between the employers especially those Small and Medium Enterprises and employees.
The Malaysia government is going to submit another report to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) committee in 2020. The last report was submitted 13 years ago.
Hannah Yeoh, the Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said the ministry is completing the report’s final draft which also involves cooperation from other ministries.
According to The Malaysian Reserve, Malaysia is obligated to report to the UNCRC committee every five years as the government ratified the CRC in 1995. The CRC is an international human rights treaty which articulates the rights of children and is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world.
Besides of the report, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry (KPWKM) will focus on increasing number of child protection officers from the current 280 to 1,500 next year to handle abused and abandoned children.
The ministry is also planning to establish a specialised children’s agency to enforce and roll out developmental plans for children.
Badan Perhubungan Negara (BPN) has recently lived up to its title of being the coalition of Kelab UMNOs by sharing a statement on their social media account by Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Salleh Said Keruak, the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, who defended the Anti-Fake News (AFN) Bill recently passed in Parliament. This action overlooks the nuanced implications of this Bill and the overbearingly clumsy way it was rushed through Parliament. I shall explain why.
Problems with the AFN Bill
The Datuk Seri claims that the law doesn’t provide carte blanche power to the government to control what is defined as ‘fake news’ but that this is left up to the independent judiciary. Allegations against the independence of our judiciary aside, this is highly myopic due to the broadness of the definition of fake news within the Bill itself. According to Article 2 of the Bill itself, “fake news includes any news, information, data and reports, which is or are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.”
This is extremely broad – literally anything can be defined as fake news, from satire to op-eds. The implication of this is that legal recourse would be open to abuse by any party seeking to obtain dominion over those who think differently. More importantly, when we focus on the possibility of governmental abuse, any form of dissent can be taken to be defined as fake news and litigation pursued.
Yes, courts may deliberate over this definition and decide against overly heavy-handed interpretations but even having the possibility of legal action being taken on an individual or organisation would greatly reduce the likelihood of free speech flourishing, especially when we take into consideration banter, satire and other forms of humour. Not only this, the freedom of the press in terms of investigative journalism might also be affected. Analysts and commentators can be silenced for having opinions unpopular to the powers that be.
One may say that so long as these are based on facts, one doesn’t have to fear the Bill. But what kind of words can be used that are incapable of suggesting words or ideas other than that which are intended? If, let’s say, one was to criticise the microeconomic fragility of our nation, is describing our economy as ‘immature’ or ‘not all-encompassing’ allowed? Can legal action be threatened by the government against an economist who suggests this, alleging that the words used falsely suggest the economic health of our country is dire? How much would this cost the economist, monetarily and in terms of physical and mental health? More importantly, would said economist then want to continue his work? Would anyone else, for that matter?
Why heavy-handed laws don’t work
A remnant of authoritarian regimes, heavy-handed laws may even be counter-productive. In the case of fake news in today’s world of borderless communication, draconian laws might exacerbate the problem by moving it underground to more secure servers or even the deep web.
An analogy may be drawn with the cigarette industry, where high taxes intended to discourage smoking have driven people to more dangerous illicit varieties. Do we really want this to happen, where we can’t see what is being talked about, shared and believed by a large section of society? It has been a trend of Malaysians to treat the symptoms rather than the core problem. In this sense, fake news itself is not the problem, a lack of intellectualism is. People who believe in fake news generally are not used to researching its veracity, because that is the kind of society we live in – where those who hold power administer what to believe rather than encourage the general populace to make up their own mind by considering the facts at hand. The AFN legislation treats symptoms rather than causes, and may be counterproductive.
This also causes the perception of the administrator of facts to be seen as a powerful oppressor, especially if there are laws to strengthen their hold over society. This emboldens those who do not trust them in the first place to disengage entirely, forming colonies of sceptics that disseminate alternative facts of their own. Let’s face it, we have all lived in fear of governmental repercussions for a long time. Yet, we share conspiracy theories all the time, especially when it comes to purported racial superiority and religious agendas. Thought-control is not just a dangerous concept but an ultimately unsuccessful one.
The very notion of governmental control expressed in vague provisions will only antagonise the very members of society it seeks to protect. What we need is an organic understanding of society with bottom-up origins. This will only exist through the setting-up of a properly open and free environment such that an open marketplace of ideas can exist from which society arranges itself in the most amicable manner.
Double standards in student politics?
What is really frustrating is the selective memory involved with societies such as BPN. Whenever any society takes any step that is vaguely political, a million cautions swarm those involved, often speaking against partisanship, yet BPN and the associated Kelab UMNOs ooze partisanship. There is direct contact with UMNO, yet it is said that these organisations are independent. The conflict of interest cannot be more apparent. If we are being real about this, it is unsurprising that these so-called independent student societies express their support for bills supported by UMNO, even if it is painfully obvious that these bills are not that well thought out. In-and-of-itself this is not a problem. Everyone has an agenda they are pushing based on their beliefs and their desires, silencing these are unwise. All I really want is some honesty. We know you’re not independent, stop pretending that you are.
But this is the reality of politics in Malaysia. Closed-door diplomacy rules, shady dealings and discussions in quiet corners move and shape the decisions made by so many of those who hold office. It is truly suffocating. Even those societies that have no formal ties with certain bodies that are supposed to be kept at arm’s length to eliminate conflicts of interest often have to deal with them behind closed doors under the fear caused by subtle threats. Whatever happened to accountability and transparency? One may be under the notion that things can happen more efficiently through this closed-door method but with every positive comes a compromise. Are we willing to let that compromise be that of the very fundamentals of student activism – critical thinking and independence? And if we are, does it bode well to continue selling what is essentially a lie to assert that one is independent when it is not completely true?
The future of student activism
Forget what it is like back home, forget what other people have done with their organisations, we should carve a system for ourselves with our values in mind.
Look, I am not here to antagonise BPN. One of the friends I hold in high regard once held a very high position in a Kelab UMNO, I can understand compromises and even political motives, as much as I find the notion personally abhorrent. In the end, we are all students, so we are all natural allies. We not being a part of the Legislative, Judiciary and Executive sectors of public service or even the private sector are supposed to be independent of all these to be critical of society around us. This is especially true when it comes to the governance of us as students.
Independent organisation by us for us should be paramount. The most important aspect in this is free speech and the creation of an intellectual, open environment. Forget what it is like back home, forget what other people have done with their organisations, we should carve a system for ourselves with our values in mind. When those of other interests come knocking, let them in professionally and transparently. Represent students, please. And if you don’t, at least be honest about it.
*The author of this article has asked to remain anonymous through use of an alias for personal reasons.
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