By Tsubasa Nair | Free Malaysia Today

Police are investigating PN’s Padang Serai candidate Azman Nasrudin after a complaint from PKR. — Bernama

A police investigation into a Perikatan Nasional member’s insult of the new government has prompted two lawyers to call for recognition of the right to free speech.

Referring to Padang Serai election candidate Azman Nasrudin’s likening of the unity government to a promiscuous relationship, lawyers Fahri Azzat and Jacqueline Albert told FMT they believed he was not guilty of a crime although they personally felt he was being crass.

Last Sunday, on his campaign trail, Azman called the government “kerajaan zina”. Under Islamic law, “zina” is the crime of fornication.

The police have since interviewed him and recorded his statement.

Fahri said Azman’s remark was “crude and offensive” but he added that it was “entirely within his right of free speech”.

“I don’t think there is any criminal element in his remark,” he said. “The government cannot be too sensitive about remarks like that. To pay any attention to it is to lend the dignity and significance it does not deserve.

“But then again, I am not a politician.”

Albert acknowledged that Azman’s statement might have come across as unpleasant to certain parties but she said such remarks were lawful as long as they did not threaten national security or incite violence or hate.

“The question is whether I am being offensive or you’re being sensitive,” she said. “Either way, any speech or expression should be restricted only in accordance with the law and not how you or I feel.”

The delayed election for Padang Serai is scheduled for next Wednesday. Azman is facing Sofee Razak (Pakatan Harapan), C Sivaraj (Barisan Nasional), Hamzah Abdul Rahman (Pejuang), Bakri Hashim (Warisan) and Sreanandha Rao (Independent).

Azman’s remark prompted PKR information chief Fahmi Fadzil to urge the police to open an investigation. In reaction, Shah Alam Bersatu deputy chief Afif Bahardin said Fahmi’s call was “completely against” PH’s repeated promise to defend freedom of speech.

But Fahri claimed that freedom of speech, under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, did not give individuals the absolute freedom to say whatever they pleased without repercussion.

“It is conditional upon us speaking the truth, having good grounds for speaking ill of others and not causing harm to others,” he said. “That is why we can be sued for defamation and prosecuted for criminal defamation.”

Former Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir said Azman’s remark must be evaluated for context and meaning if it were to be investigated.

“The exercise of such an assessment is to test whether the words spoken have crossed the boundaries of acceptable political comments permitted under the law, whether it has transcended into the realm of falsehood against individuals and government or excites dissatisfaction against the royalty,” he said.

He also said the government should be cautious of acting against criticism as this could be seen as repressing freedom of speech and expression.

According to Berita Harian, Azman described the formation of the unity government as a “marriage between PH and BN” that had not been agreed upon by many leaders and grassroots members and was therefore equivalent to “zina”.