The Malaysian Bar is dismayed over reports on the recent arrest of two 18-year-old teenagers who posted a video on social media expressing their dissatisfaction with their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia History examination.1 We consider the approach taken by the police to be highly disproportionate, unreasonable, and overzealous.
According to media reports, following a police report by a teacher over the video, a raid was conducted at the homes of the two teens, which was then followed by an arrest and drug test. Both teens were remanded for investigations under section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 and section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (“CMA”).2
It bears reminding that the teenagers are still only secondary school students. They have since apologised and expressed remorse for their behaviour, no doubt through the intimidation and traumatising experience of having been subjected to arrest and drug test by our men and women in blue, at such a young age.
As much as one may disagree with the actions of the two teens, they were expressing their thoughts of their experience on an examination, and surely should not have attracted a display of such disproportionate force by the police for this non-serious offence. Instead, the high-handed reaction by the police could potentially create antagonism and perpetuate further distrust in their institution — raising the question of why resources are being spent on arresting two youths rather than pursuing actual criminals with more serious crimes. The teens’ recent arrest is a manifestation of regressive conduct by the police as a show of power over persons powerless to retaliate.
The police’s actions of subjecting the teens to unnecessary arrest and detention would only result in far-reaching negative ramifications on their emotional and mental psyches. The Malaysian Bar views the correct approach to be for the students to be dealt with through their school’s disciplinary process or counselling committee, rather than through law enforcement.
In the same vein, the Malaysian Bar has consistently called for the repeal of section 233(1)(a) of the CMA, which, among others, criminalises the use of network facilities or network services by a person to transmit any communication that is deemed to be offensive and could cause annoyance to another person. It goes against the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech and expression. While the comments made by the teenagers were unfortunate, their actions were not a threat to the public in any way, shape, or form. The use of this oppressive legislation to clamp down on the teenagers’ freedom of speech is wholly inappropriate.
The Malaysian Bar reiterates its call upon our newly minted Government — one that prides itself on its reformist and progressive views — to school the police towards an ability to exhibit true commitment to reasoned and proportionate actions, and to repeal section 233 of the CMA.
Freedom of speech and expression is a mark of democracy. The negligible behaviour of the two teenagers is an example of diversity of opinion — one that is inconsequential, even though a very small fraction of our community may not be agreeable with.
The Malaysian Bar urges our law enforcement authorities to administer their duties proportionately and to give due consideration to the circumstances and non-severity of the event, and refrain from behaving in an excessive manner.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn
1 March 2023
1 “Teens arrested for criticising SPM History paper released, says Education Minister”, The Star, 26 February 2023.
2 “Police say acted within the law when detaining two SPM students over history paper rant”, Malay Mail, 27 February 2023.