Address criticism, don’t sue and stifle freedom of speech, Ramkarpal tells Pahang govt

The head of DAP Legal Bureau and Bukit Gelugor MP, Ramkarpal Singh, says those who speak up on matters of public interest should not be slapped with defamation suits by certain quarters, including state governments.

Such a move, according to Ramkarpal, was “inappropriate”.

He said this to Twentytwo13, in response to the Pahang state government’s demands for an apology, RM1 million in damages, and threats to sue Bentong MP Wong Tack over statements linked to last year’s flooding and logging activities in the state.

“State governments should take criticism in its stride. In fact, all governments should do so,” said Ramkarpal.

“It is inappropriate for state governments to initiate defamation proceedings, as (in Wong Tack’s case) he was raising an issue of public interest.

Ramkarpal, who is also a lawyer, said state governments and leaders should bear in mind that they “come and go”, and as such, are open to criticism.

“It would be a different situation if one is personally defamed. But in this (Wong’s) case, the Pahang government is an institution on its own and it should be open to public scrutiny,” Ramkarpal added.

“It’s not just MPs. Every individual has the right to criticise the state government. To sue people who speak up on matters of public interest and to accuse them of defamation, is akin to stifling freedom of speech. It should not be condoned.”

Ramkarpal added that state governments have the resources to address criticism, including using their publicity machinery.

Although there is a court precedent (Chong Chieng Jen v Government of State of Sarawak & Anor) to allow state governments to initiate civil proceedings – including defamation suits – Ramkarpal said it should not be in cases where individuals speak up on matters of public interest.

“It doesn’t matter if the individual is an MP or not. The same principle should apply across the board,” he said.

The Pahang government, in a Feb 4 letter, through its lawyers Hidayah Isyak and Partners, had demanded from Wong, an apology and RM1 million in damages within 14 days for allegedly making defamatory statements on logging activities in the state, failing which, a suit would be filed in court.

It is claimed that Wong had made statements, and posted videos on Facebook on Dec 28 last year, and on Jan 30, which were defamatory in nature, against the state government.

Last week, the Pahang government also sought an apology and RM1 million in damages from environmentalist Puan Sri Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil for allegedly making defamatory statements on logging activities in the state.

In its letter of demand, the state government claimed that Shariffa Sabrina had made the statements in two Facebook posts, dated Dec 29, and Dec 30 last year, and during a Sinar Harian interview on Jan 12.

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