24 October 2014
There is a stereotype about Malaysians that says we are a very polite people. I am not sure how true this is. Maybe once upon a time this was a reality, but nowadays I don’t see much politeness in my day to day life here in the capital city. Perhaps it is because I live in a big city that I feel this way. Maybe in the smaller towns, people are still polite to one another and treat one another with civility and friendliness.
Having said that neither are we especially rude. It happens of course, but quite rarely, to the point that when it does occur it feels rather jarring. Generally speaking we don’t see people shouting at each other. Of course on the internet people can be very rude. Also you get examples of extremely rude people in political settings, like at the anti-sedition protest in Penang recently which was broken up by a bunch of extremely uncouth thugs.
Rudeness is unpleasant of course, but the question I want to ask here is should it be illegal? I am speaking specifically about Wong Hoi Cheng and M Krishnan, who both have incurred the wrath of the authorities as a result of their “rude” actions.
Wong had likened the Inspector General of Police to a Nazi military commander and Krishnan had posed for a photo holding his slipper against a picture of the Prime Minister. Both actions were done apparently as an angry action to the police arresting scores of Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit and the rising cost of living respectively.
Krishnan was arrested and detained for a few days but as yet has not been charged. Wong has been charged under section 504 of the Penal Code. It is possible that Krishnan may be charged with the same section. If we look at section 504 it says:
“Whoever intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Looking at this section, insulting someone can be a crime but it seems that the insult has to fulfil two components for it to be an offence. First is the insult itself and secondly that the insult will result in some sort of breach of peace or any other offence.
On the face of it, I don’t see how Wong’s statement can fulfil the second component. But of course ultimately that is for the court to decide. The question remains however as to why the police have decided to use their resources to charge him. Seriously, was what he said going to cause a breach in public order or result in other crimes?
I think the law was designed for situations where a person insults another person to the point that a fight ensues. I am not sure it is meant to protect public figures from rude comments from people who are angry at how you do your duty.
Now perhaps the IGP and the PM were very upset by the acts of these two men. Perhaps they are sensitive people and it hurt them badly. Perhaps, I don’t know, but being the object of anger and the occasional rudeness is the price one pays when holding high public office. Sure it is not nice and sure it is probably not in line with our culture, so sure these men can be scolded and told off by their own fellow Malaysians, but it is not correct for the law to be used to punish them.
This would mean that the law is used in a manner to protect the powerful from criticism. And criticism comes in many forms, including insults. It’s not nice, but then if you are not tough enough to take it, perhaps you shouldn’t be in public office.
Anyway, since the police are so keen on criminalising insults, perhaps they should investigate all those people who have been insulting Syed Azmi Alhabsi. Syed Azmi recently organised an event where people, including Muslims are encouraged to touch dogs in order to get over their prejudices against the animals. Quite a sweet thing to do I think, but not everyone shares this view.
Syed Azmi has been insulted vehemently by some angry Muslims and these insults have also been followed by calls of inflicting violence, even death on the poor chap. Surely this clearly falls under section 504 of the Penal Code. It would be interesting to see what the cops do.