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'Criticisms against govt show freedom of speech alive in Malaysia'
Published on: Thursday, January 29, 2015
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Kuala Lumpur: The criticism against Putrajaya on social media demonstrates that freedom of speech exists in Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said.Najib's remarks after a lawyer was investigated by police last week over his criticism of federal Islamic authorities, making him the latest person caught up in the government dragnet that began last year.

Najib also told a televised interview with TV3 that the Barisan Nasional government had decided to retain the Sedition Act 1948, despite pledging in 2012 to abolish the colonial-era law, to defend everyone's interests regardless of race and religion and to prevent racial conflicts.

"Democracy is still healthy and being practised," Najib was quoted saying in the interview published by local daily the New Straits Times today.

"You can give a speech anywhere as long as you get permission, so there is no problem. Who says there is no democracy in the country? Malaysia is a country that practises democracy. But don't let freedom make us do something that might, in the end, create conflicts in our country," the prime minister added. Eric Paulsen, co-founder of human rights group Lawyers for Liberty, was arrested for sedition earlier this month over his alleged tweet that accused the Malaysian Islamic Development Department of extremism. The slew of investigations and prosecutions under the Sedition Act last year mostly targeted anti-government dissidents and opposition politicians. Many of the cases also involved alleged insults against Islam and the royalty.

Activists have urged Putrajaya not to use the recent terrorist attacks against satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published several provocative cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, to justify increasing control over the Malaysian media.

Najib said Saturday, in reference to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, that absolute freedom of speech would lead to extremism.

The prime minister told TV3 yesterday that in a bid to tackle terrorism, Malaysia tabled a White Paper in Parliament on the Islamic State threat last November and that an anti-terrorism law is scheduled to be tabled in March.

"In Western countries, there is this idea of freedom without limitations. Our aim here is for peace, stability and harmony," he said.



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