Malaysia Today is publishing this article in response to comments posted asking about the source of the photograph
By Shaun Tan, CEKU
You know something’s wrong when even the simplest gestures become risky. Last week many of us were made acutely aware of this.
On Merdeka Eve, a group of people were photographed stepping on pictures of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The result was the arrests of three young people under the threat of sedition and a continuing ‘manhunt’ for the rest of the group. Suddenly stepping on the Prime Minister’s photo – something no one even knew was supposed to be illegal – was threatened with criminal prosecution.
Such persecution by the Barisan Nasional government has prompted one of the suspects, a 19-year-old girl, to apologize for her actions. I don’t know what satisfaction the BN government got from bullying a young girl into apologizing, but in at least one respect it seems to have succeeded: suddenly people are apologizing where no apology should be necessary.
The Opposition response to this has been disappointingly hesitant. So far most statements by Opposition leaders seem to urge the government to ‘forgive’ those involved.
It’s a pity that so few are prepared to say what needs to be said: that those young people were just expressing their displeasure at the Prime Minister in a way that harmed no one, that threatened no one, and that the government has neither right nor cause to forgive them anything.
It’s a pity that our government needs reminding that in a democracy politicians derive their authority from the people, and that when faced with public expressions of displeasure, a true leader should square his shoulders and put up with it. Because in politics, criticism and even insult come with the territory, and someone who cannot stomach it or who can only respond to negative feedback with threats and coercion is unfit to lead.
It’s difficult for me not to see this persecution as just the latest in a series of attacks by the BN government on our liberty. I’ve grown up seeing how these attacks have infected the country with a pernicious self-censorship and reduced the mainstream media to its pitiful state, and I am unwilling to concede another inch.
I don’t want Malaysia to become a country where the Prime Minister is so sacred that even stepping on his image is illegal. And since without a corresponding gesture my words will be empty, here’s a photo to go with them: