PROHAM respects and promotes the right of freedom of speech, subject to the limits permitted by international human rights norms. However, the Government must not permit hate speech i.e. speech that incites discrimination hostility or violence against other people because of their race or religion.
The Government having allowed Dr Zakir Naik the freedom of speech, must similarly grant the same right to all. Hence, the Government should not restrict the rights of Malaysians by using the archaic Sedition Act to curb freedom of speech.
In the case of controversial Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik, there are many competing rights and freedoms at play.
There is, of course, the right of Dr Naik to speak and to proselytize, though that may be subject to question since he is a visitor to our shores.
The right to propagate religion is one recognized by international human rights law. In Malaysia, however, that right is somewhat restricted by our Federal Constitution where State law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine amongst persons professing Islam.
There is also the right of those attending his talks to hear what he has to say, also a manifestation of freedom of speech which allows people to speak but also the right of others to receive information.
Free speech can only be restricted on certain very specific grounds. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides the international standard on free speech, though regrettably Malaysia is not yet a party to this Convention.
The ICCPR provides that free speech can only be restricted in circumstances that are specified by law and by means that are necessary
“(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;”
“(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals”
On the other hand, under Article 20 of the ICCPR, countries are obliged to make laws to protect against “hate speech”. Article 20 provides as follows:
“1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
“2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
PROHAM therefore urges the Government to look at the Rabat Plan of Action 2013 promoted by the United Nations which emphasizes the interdependence of human rights and the critical role Human Rights play in creating an environment in which a constructive discussion about religious matters could be held.
The Rabat Plan of Action provides recommendations for states in terms of legislation, jurisprudence and policy to achieve the desired space for future and open discussion that promote inclusion and respect diversity.
In the above context, PROHAM urges the Government to seriously reconsider whether Dr Zakir Naik fits the criteria laid down in the Rabat Plan of Action and the ICCPR before allowing him to speak on similar issues considering that two Commonwealth nations, the United Kingdom and Canada do not allow him into their jurisdiction.
As a secular democracy with a majority of its populations professing Islam, Malaysia is in a unique and enviable position with its long history of racial and religious harmony. PROHAM urges the Government to judiciously ensure that such racial and religious harmony is not jeopardized.
Issued on behalf of PROHAM by Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari (PROHAM Chairman)