Arresting someone at 4.30am in his home without a warrant, taking him away without informing his family where they were taking him or why, and dragging him all the way from Petaling Jaya to Johor Baru — one might think that the suspect was a terrorist, murderer or had committed treason against the state.
But no, former journalist Sidek Kamiso was arrested simply because he allegedly tweeted this, presumably over the death of faith healer and PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Dr Haron Din: “Someone who made his career out of selling air jampi for any illness succumbed to his illness in a modern hospital in San Francisco. #irony”
Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi from the DAP is also under investigation for allegedly retweeting Sidek’s purported tweet and saying: “Adios Harun Din. Let there be peace.”
Those two alleged tweets were perhaps insensitive or even in bad taste. It was also unfair to criticise Haron for going to a hospital in the US despite his alternative medicine practice.
Based on what I heard from someone who used to be neighbours with Haron, he never claimed he could heal physical illnesses, even if those with such ailments did go to him. He never dismissed modern medicine either.
Besides, it’s understandable why some would turn to alternative medicine, even if its efficacy is doubtful — there’s a reason why it’s called “alternative”. However, both chemotherapy and prayers failed to cure my father’s cancer; he died when I was 16.
If the police had left Haron’s critics alone and let them deal with social punishments (i.e. scolding or insults) from his supporters, the issue would have died down quickly and his memory preserved as an amiable healer.
Instead, the investigations of Sidek and two others over their social media posts on Haron have sparked public sympathy for them, especially since Sidek’s arrest was done in such an unnecessary, heavy-handed manner that made the police look like thugs.
Being “offensive” with the intent to “annoy” someone, which is prohibited under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, should not be a crime. There’s a difference between being offensive and making hate speecheswith explicit threats of violence against a minority group.
If being offensive and annoying someone is a crime, then the police can start by locking up those who called me a “bitch” or a “slut” because of my writings, or pretty much everyone else in the country who’s probably annoyed at least one person in their lifetime.
If the British could actually celebrate the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher with the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, Ding dong! The Witch is Deadwithout facing arrests, why can’t Malaysia be more mature and refrain from state action against offensive people?
We must also remember that public figures will inevitably attract all manner of scrutiny, including criticism, during their lifetime. Their death will not change how people feel about them.
When Karpal Singh died in 2014, two people — former MP Datuk Zulkifli Noordinand Langkawi MP Datuk Nawawi Ahmad — posted nasty things on social media about the lawyer hours after his demise, mocking his anti-hudud stance.
They were happy that the person who was so firm in his stand against a belief they held dear had died, in the same way that many British people rejoiced overThatcher’s death because they hated what she did.
Likewise, some Malaysians dislike faith healing and see as hypocrisy Haron’s hospital visit when he has a centre that claims to treat things like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Strong women and men with their own opinions will have both fans and haters. While it’s probably disrespectful to insult them upon their deaths, it certainly shouldn’t be an offence under the law, punishable with imprisonment.
Insulting people should never be a crime. Neither should insults against religion nor “wounding” one’s “religious feelings”, as per Section 298 of the Penal Code, be criminalised. People are free to believe whatever they want believe, but any belief — including religious ones — should not be held as sacrosanct and above criticism.
Malaysians ought to learn how to deal with offensive people. Instead of clamouring for state action, they can easily do things like organise campaigns urging voters to reject politicians who offend them.
Pending the repeal of Section 233 of the CMA or Section 298 of the Penal Code, we should avoid lodging police reports against people who offend us since the police are obliged to investigate every single complaint.
Lodging police reports against trivial matters like insults takes up resources that would be better spent on actual crimes like snatch theft or corruption.
We should grow up and not expect the police to pander to our querulous demands for offensive people to be thrown behind bars all the time.