Expressing opinion on Najib’s pardon bid is no crime


He was never one to hide his haughtiness. When things do not appear to be going his way, threats and intimidation are his weapons.

As the then home minister in 2013, he wielded a lot of power, especially since his party had an iron grip on the government and he could revoke the licences of newspapers.

He threatened to shut down newspapers after an audio recording of his speech made at an Umno meeting went viral.

In it, he also endorsed the Tiga Line underworld group, calling them his friends and urging them to do what they needed to do.

His speech then veered to statements with racial undertones.

“The largest drug dealers are Chinese, the smaller ones are Indians, and the users are Malays. In internet gambling, the bosses are Chinese, operators are Indians, and the patrons are Malays,” he declared.

A year later, he was it again, this time stating that “he knew what to do” if TheSun did not retract a report about him. As I was preparing a rebuttal in my column, the instructions trickled down.

“Don’t need to write about it. Let him be. Don’t agitate him,” was the message from upstairs.

Given that the home minister has the power to suspend or revoke the licences of newspapers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, I complied with the order.

The tirade against the media and journalists continued unabated until his government was unseated in the 14th general election. Yes, that is when his arrogance was contained – a once all-powerful minister had joined the ranks of the unemployed.

But last year, a resurrection of sorts – propping up the new government brought him back into the limelight and power as the country’s one of two deputy prime ministers.

1MDB scandal ‘a lie’

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was then the cheerleader and headed the propagandists when the 1MDB scandal made headlines the world over. He and his Umno cohorts tried to pull the wool over the eyes of Malaysians.

By claiming “the scandal is a lie perpetrated by the opposition and foreign agents trying to overthrow a democratically elected leader”, his belligerence and pugnaciousness were exposed.

He even ventured into talking about meeting the Arab donors who supposedly sent billions to his former boss, Najib Abdul Razak, who is now serving a 12-year jail term for his role in siphoning RM42 million from SRC International.

Najib has been incarcerated for less than a year but the war drums began beating even before he stepped into the Kajang Prison. His supporters, including Zahid and Umno, have been pushing for a royal pardon.

Most right-thinking and law-abiding citizens are opposed to him being freed, at least for the moment, and believe that the process should only start after Najib has served at least one-third of the sentence, as well as after he expresses remorse and apologises for his misdeeds.

Well, that is not what Zahid and Umno want. They want Najib on the streets – pronto. They are not worried that this would be a contempt of the law-and-order system and above all, a slap in the face for the judiciary.

Rightly, Amanah communications director Khalid Samad called for a rejection of the application for a pardon for the former Umno president.

And that’s when Zahid showed his colours, yet again – he wants all quarters to stop making inappropriate comments on the Umno’s bid to seek a pardon for former prime minister Najib.

Who says making comments that Najib does not deserve a pardon or asking for the rejection of a pardon is inappropriate? (In his parlance, “inappropriate” means saying anything contrary to Umno’s desires and wishes.)

All are entitled to their opinions

Can ordinary Malaysians express an opinion on matters like these? If Zahid and his supporters can disagree (loudly with demonstrations) with the findings of the court by making spurious statements, why can’t Ah Chong, Ahmad, or Muthu say his piece?

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Such freedom of expression may be restricted but such restrictions must always be grounded in law, necessary, and proportionately enforced to achieve legitimate aims.

Since when has Zahid been vested with the power to shut us up and seal our lips? No one is questioning the special rights accorded in affirmative policies like the NEP. People are simply saying the law must take its course and that if you do the crime, you must do the time. Period.

I had previously offered some advice to Zahid and his ilk: Think twice before you open your big mouth or act irrationally; respect the law and pay heed to common sense; use your judgment and retain your self-esteem; and stop resorting to disgusting levels of popularity-gaining efforts.

Apparently, it must have fallen on deaf ears. We continue to hear and read statements from him and his party stalwarts that border on absurdity.

Let me reiterate that I will continue to write and speak against the pardon (or any other issues), and this does not make me a lesser Malaysian.

There are no provisions in the law to stop or prevent me from expressing my opinions. On the contrary, the law accords freedom to do so.

This is not a challenge to Zahid’s diktat but to tell those bent on using the system for their own advantage, or for their friends to stop making a mockery of the tried and tested system we have in place.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread-and-butter issues.