MARUAH statement on freedom of expression & freedom of peaceful assembly

MARUAH is concerned over the recent arrests in 2 separate incidents, Mr Amos Yee’s YouTube video, and 2 men holding placards outside the Istana.

The 1st incident involved a Youtube video and an obscene picture on a blog. Amos Yee has been arrested, charged, and released on bail. The charges relate to the Penal Code Section 298, Penal Code Section 292(1)(a), and the Protection from Harassment Act, Section 4(1)(b). We note that Section 298 of the Penal Code was amended in 2007 to provide another legislative option to deal with offenders, in lieu of the Sedition Act, an action that we commend.

The 2nd incident involved 2 persons, holding placards outside the Istana. They were arrested under the Public Order Act, Section 16(1)(a).

MARUAH is concerned that they point to severe infringements on freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. Human rights do not exist in a vacuum. People function within a society, interacting with each other and will have views on people, issues and the State.

We articulate that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 20(1) of the UDHR states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

And Article 29(2) of the UDHR states that “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

The most important thing is that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. This is so even when one were to assert on one’s freedom to express views. Whether we agree or disagree with the opinions expressed, we should stop using this form of legal sledgehammer approach to all matters.

MARUAH asks for a balance to be struck, so that we do not overly deny basic human rights to our citizens. MARUAH also asks for comprehensive human rights education for our citizens, so that more deliberation can take place before one rushes to make a police report as a means to curtail any breach. Space should be allocated for other comments to respond, instead of using the law to suppress such opinions.

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