The arrest and investigation of Maria Chin Abdullah using the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) over flyers on next month’s Bersih 5 rally amounts to selective action and harassment, lawyers have said.
Civil liberties lawyer Eric Paulsen pointed out that distributing leaflets by itself is not an offence, adding that the use of an “obscure” legal provision under the PPPA that few actually adhere to against the polls reform group Bersih 2.0’s chairman was “uncalled for”.
“It’s not enforced consistently, it’s just bad faith and selective,” the executive director of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
Maria was yesterday arrested and investigated under Section 11 of the PPPA, which requires the name and address of the publisher and printer to be included in publications that are printed in Malaysia.
But Paulsen said such a provision was no longer relevant and is part of a “paranoia legislation”, adding that printers would not want to put their names on materials that are political in nature for fear of being targeted.
“You can see people handing out leaflets but they don’t put the name of printers and no one gets arrested for that, so the only reason why I would think such a regulation exists, so that in cases like these they would be able to target printers,” he said.
He argued that the arrest and probe on Maria is “clearly persecution against a campaign seen to be anti-government”, noting that the authorities already know who Bersih 2.0 and its steering committee is and where they are based.
“So Bersih is distributing it, there’s no issue about the identity of the owner of leaflets, so why do you need identity of the printer? This is a very harsh law designed to make life difficult for opposition or groups seen to be anti-government,” he said.
Another civil liberties lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, noted the PPPA has often been criticised as a law used to restrict freedom of speech and expression in the country, adding that Maria’s arrest is another example of how this Act can be “abused to clamp down on opposing and dissenting views”.
“But the point is there’s a lot of leaflet and pamphlets being distributed all over the country, why is it the police saw fit to take action against the one distributed by Bersih? And I doubt if for example if it’s not about Bersih, if the leaflet is not about Bersih 5 the police will take any action.
“So action was taken because of the content of publication instead of because the publisher’s name was not there,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted today.
“I doubt this is the first time Bersih is distributing leaflets, in other places this leaflet was distributed, why did it become an issue for this particular area? So looking at all this, I would say Maria’s arrest is actually a form of harassment, an attempt to intimidate Maria and Bersih steering committee from doing what it intends to do,” he added.
“The whole idea of the section is to identify certain publications, where did they come from, so it’s easy to track down. In this case, if the flyers do indeed have info that it came from Bersih, and it does have info that Bersih produced it, I don’t see a reason to arrest Maria,” he said.
Prominent lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was formerly the Bersih 2.0 co-chair, said the use of the PPPA provision against Maria does not make sense and is totally unnecessary.
“People leaflet all the time. And they clearly targeted Maria.
“The senseless persecution of Bersih continues with the arrest of Maria in Sabah. I am not even clear what the offence is! This paranoia over Bersih must stop,” she said when contacted yesterday.
Yesterday, Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Fadiah Nadwa Fikri told Malay Mail Online that the leaflet clearly showed that it originated from Bersih 2.0.
“At the bottom, you see we have our website, Facebook, Twitter and it’s clearly from us. And even when police asked, we didn’t deny the fact that it’s published by us,” she said, confirming that only Maria was investigated yesterday with the probe only under Section 11.
Maria, who was arrested while distributing the leaflets in Sabah as part of the Bersih 2.0’s nationwide convoy, was released on police bail yesterday.
Bersih 2.0 is currently carrying out the convoy ahead of its Bersih 5 rally on November 19, with its five demands being clean elections, a clean government, strengthening parliamentary democracy, the right to dissent, as well as the empowering of Sabah and Sarawak.
Source : IDA LIM@The Malay Mail Online