3 ways you can get in legal trouble for insulting Malaysian politicians

If you think that you can get away with any of these offences by sharing someone else’s angry post about politicians, you might want to think twice because even sharing can get you sued

The Third Force

Given the rise of social media, it has now become easy to share thoughts or dissatisfaction about anyone. This includes ragging on our politicians. However, what you or most people would argue as freedom of expression can actually lead to you getting sued.

Telling off politicians might not be the same as telling off your friends and families as politicians hold public office and they are supposed to be open to criticism. The question is, how can you get sued when politicians are, in a way, supposed to be criticised?

There are several ways that a lawsuit can be brought against you based off your words or Facebook posts, and here is how you might find yourself in a legal battle against members of the government or the government itself. Our friends at Cilisos compiled a list of personal attacks made by Malaysian politicians.

1. Defamation Act and Penal Code

What exactly is defamation? The common idea shared by many is that defamation is an action you bring against another person for spreading rumours about you that caused your reputation to suffer. This is true but getting into the nitty gritty parts, defamation is actually divided into two different kinds of defamation and it can either be a civil or criminal action.

First off, defamation can consist of either slander or libel. Slander is when the defamatory sentence is made through words or gestures (i.e they are temporary in nature). Libel, on the other hand, is when the defamation is made through permanent means such as through a Facebook post.

Now that the two kinds of defamation has been clarified, you are probably wondering why it can either be a civil or criminal action when the people usually get in trouble for only one of them. The reason for this is that there are two separate pieces of legislation governing the law on defamation. The first is found in the Defamation Act 1957 (“DA 1957”) and the other is actually found in the Penal Code.

Section 499 Penal Code:

Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs, or visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation, concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing, or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation and shall also be liable to fine of such person, is said…to defame that person.

For clarification, a civil action is what happens when an individual brings an action (lawsuit) against you and a criminal action is when the government brings an action against you (charges you with a crime).

So what are the things that you may say that can lead to a defamation action? Regardless of whether it is civil or criminal, there are a few requirements needed to establish defamation. In a nutshell, what is needed is a defamatory statement (or gesture) which refers to the politician and it must be made to a third party other than the politician him/herself.

If you think that you would be able to scoot from being caught by defamation laws by not naming and shaming specific politicians, you can still be caught as long as the politician is identifiable. For example, if your statement sounds something like, “That MP from constituency Y likes to sleep with pretty, young girls”, then you might be in trouble because there is only one MP from constituency Y.

You may also be caught if you are found to be making an innuendo. An innuendo is basically when you make a statement that hints to something else. For example, if you say something along the lines of, “Have you noticed that the MP from constituency Y is always surrounded by pretty, young girls?”, an average person would be able to infer that he is a person of loose morals.

An example of how a defamation action works can be seen in Prime Minister Najib’s defamation action against Tony Pua for uploading a video on Facebook regarding RUU 355. Najib’s action is based on the claim that the video was directed at him and was done with the intention to defame him. This current action is still pending but a defamation action by Anwar Ibrahim against Utusan Melayu has resulted in Utusan having to paying Anwar RM200,000.

Fun fact: Did you know that our Prime Minister is not a member of the public service and cannot be sued for misfeasance in public office? Also you might be interested to learn that politicians can either be members of the public service or members or the administration.