Do not filter out democracy

And now the government is set on censoring the Internet, to ensure only the opinions it likes will be available online. In name, the government merely wants to block access to pornography and websites which promote hate speech.

By John Lee, The Malaysian Insider

It’s really funny how unremarkably the announcement came. The government yesterday put out a tender for companies to help filter the Internet. Now, in places like China and Iran, this happens quite regularly. But in Malaysia — well, there’s a first that should go into the Malaysia Book of Records.

In this day and age, it’s a rare regime that pretends to be democratic and yet maintains a law that allows the government to throw anyone it likes into jail for as long as it likes, without any accountability at all.

Rarer still are regimes who do this and who, rather than slowly loosening the chains of their people, only tighten them further. The people of Malaysia have spoken quite clearly: they want more freedom, not less.

The government dismisses calls for the abolition — and sometimes even amendment — of the Internal Security Act as unfounded, because the ISA is necessary to preserve national harmony. If people were to be able to do as they please, and speak their minds, this logic goes, then the country would collapse. Riots would break out and terrorists would have free rein.

Curiously, virtually every democracy with preventive detention laws has controls over how long someone can be held for. Often, after a certain period has passed, the government must either charge the detainee with a crime, or let them free.

In Malaysia, even though in theory someone can only be held for two years, the government has complete freedom to renew the detention order — and it is accountable to nobody.

The government pretends we are democratic in spite of this law; it is our own kind of democracy, they say. But democracy is about more than voting. They had elections in Soviet Russia; they have elections in North Korea. Hardly anybody pretends these countries, which have stripped the electoral process of all the freedoms it requires to work, constitute democracies.

Democracy needs information to work. The people who vote need to be able to understand the issues that concern the government, and to hear different points of view about how to tackle these issues. If you know nothing about who you are voting for, why bother voting?

It is true that letting people talk and listen has its risks. We must bring to justice people who spread a message of hate, and who plot against our country. But we must also accord those we suspect of these crimes their right to due process.

If the government can toss any terrorist it likes into the lockup for as long as it pleases, it will slowly and surely expand the definition of terrorism to encompass those who merely disagree with the ruling regime.

We have already seen this happen; how many ISA detainees have truly posed a threat to our country? Many of these supposed terrorists at this very moment sit in Parliament, on both sides of the benches, helping govern this country!