Friday 29 June 2012

Pakatan seeks to halt new Evidence Act

Opposition MPs call on Putrajaya to repeal the “ill conceived” Section 114(A).

KUALA LUMPUR: Pakatan Rakyat today urged Putrajaya not to gazette controversial amendments to the Evidence Act that Parliament recently passed.

Instead, it should table a proposal to repeal the new Section 114(A) of the act during the next sitting of Parliament, said a statement signed by R Sivarasa (PKR- Subang), Fong Po Kuan (DAP-Batu Gajah) and Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (PAS-Kuala Selangor).

They condemned the new legislation as ill-conceived, saying it would have far reaching negative implications on the Internet and netizens.

“Who are they really trying to protect?” said Dzulkefly, speaking to reporters in the parliament lobby.

“At the end of the day, not even the government is safe from it. If someone hacks into a government website and posts racial slurs, derogatory remarks, they are themselves liable too.”

He said the amendment defied the “innocent until proven guilty” principle.

Sivarasa admitted that Pakatan did not notice the negative implications when the amendment bill was “rushed through” and realised the enormity of the outrage only after recent public debates.

Those who drafted the bill “did not think it through”, he said. “Wifi is now made impossible. City Hall policy promotes all restaurants having Wifi, but these amendments put owners of such establishments in an unacceptable situation. They are now held criminally liable for the actions of anonymous customers.”

The threat to such establishments would have a direct impact on tourism, he added.

He said the government was trying to intimidate Internet users with the new law. “It is an attempt to muzzle Internet news portals. Now you become responsible. It’s for you to prove your innocence.”

He listed some of Pakatan’s concerns as follows:
  • The amendment, by making individuals and organisations who administer, operate or provide spaces for online community forums, blogging and hosting services liable for published content, undermines the principles of justice, democracy and fundamental human rights.
  • It allows hackers and cyber criminals to go free by making the person whose account/computer is hacked liable for content.
  • Because of its chilling effect on user-driven production and consumption of Internet content, the amendment can wreck Malaysia’s thriving Internet economy, which accounts for about 4% of the national GDP.
  • It threatens the principle of online anonymity, which is crucial in promoting a free and open Internet
  • It threatens freedom of expression online.
Sivarasa also said the amendment would encourage the proliferation of anonymous blogs.

“I call on BN to halt this,” he said. “Do not gazette it. Legislation to repeal this bill must be undertaken. If that fails, we at Pakatan commit that we will repeal it if we take over federal government.”

Misplaced fears

Earlier this week, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong responded to the criticism that the amendment would make it easier for netizens to be convicted. He described the anxiety—which has become a hot topic of online discussion—as “misplaced fears”.

“In Section 114a, it is clear that the person is only assumed to be involved,” he said. “All assumptions are open for rebuttal in court. All are only assumptions until they can be proven.”

He added that prosecutors would still be required to prove their charges, using the “balance of probabilities” as in a civil case.

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