The Malaysian Bar is perturbed by the proposed action of authorities to ban the former Attorney General Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’s (“Thomas”) controversial memoir — My Story: Justice in the Wilderness. We take the view that any ban on the book would be a direct threat to one’s freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. This is a fundamental right that must be upheld in any democratic society that is governed by the rule of law.
As the writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This perfectly encapsulates the spirit of freedom of speech and expression: an opinion may neither be popular nor well-liked; however, this is not sufficient to prohibit or censor it. The hallmark of a free and liberal society is that its citizens must be able to accept conflicting viewpoints that differ from their own. This is a mark of a mature citizenry.
Article 10 of our Constitution sets forth several reasons that may result in the curtailment of one’s freedom of speech and expression such as a threat to the security, public order or morality of the country. However, the Malaysian Bar does not take the view that Thomas’s memoir falls into this category, and although many may disagree with his opinions, a ban on the book will be excessive and disproportionate. Thomas is free to voice his views, and those who disagree with him are allowed to criticise him. However, such disagreement does not warrant a ban on Thomas’s memoir.
The Malaysian Bar hopes that no ban will be placed on Thomas’s memoir, as this would make our nation no different from an autocratic state that prohibits viewpoints that are different from their own. Almost all ideas and views have the capacity to offend someone. Diversity in thought should be valued, and although parties may not necessarily agree with each other, individuals should be allowed the freedom to have their own views and to express them. As long as these views do not imperil the safety of our society and our country, the Malaysian Bar urges everyone to respect the right of Malaysians to voice their views. Freedom of speech and expression form a vital part of social progress. It is through openness to new ideas that developments, reforms and improvements can be made.
10 February 2021