By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 7 ― The authorities should stop their “harsh action” against those who stepped on pictures of the prime minister last week, lawyers have said.
This follows a recent manhunt that led to the arrests of two teenagers over the incident, one of whom has also been expelled by his college over the incident.
A public uproar has arisen among conservative politicians after several individuals were spotted tearing up and stamping on pictures of Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his spouse, and the Election Commission chairman during the 55th National Day countdown at Dataran Merdeka.
Yesterday, a teenager apologised for stepping on the prime minister’s picture a day after she was arrested and handcuffed in what opposition politicians say was an over-reaction by the police.
Bukit Aman’s CID director Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Zinin said earlier this week that the police were probing the incidents under the Sedition Act ― despite Putrajaya’s decision to repeal the controversial law that has been widely panned as a tool to curb political dissent.
He added that stepping on pictures of Najib and wife were considered offences under Sections 290 and 504 of the Penal Code for being public nuisances and intentionally causing insult with intent to provoke a breach of the public peace, respectively.
Those convicted under Section 290 may be fined up to RM400 while those found guilty under Section 504 can be jailed up to two years or fined, or both.
Today, civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan urged authorities to don kid gloves when dealing with the youths involved.
“I appeal to the authorities to reconsider the harsh action taken against these young people,” he said.
“While I do not condone their actions, we must never forget that at the end of the day, they are just youths who feel strongly about something.
“They may not have expressed it in a manner that we would agree with, but treat them fairly and do not judge them harshly,” he said.
Lawyer Faisal Moideen agreed with Syahredzan, saying: “I don’t think we should condone but I also don’t think we should prosecute.”
“The government should just ignore these childish and immature behaviour,” he said. “It serves no purpose to prosecute them.”
“In the current political climate... by prosecuting them, you’re turning them into victims, into heroes.”
He also said that prosecution would be “fuelling the emotions” of both those supporting and objecting to the actions, saying it would further polarise society.
Another lawyer, Edmund Bon, described these youths’ actions as “distasteful”, but said “these are non-violent actions which are protected by freedom of expression.”
“So we should not be too concerned about these things; rather, we should be focused more on dealing with crime and cases of sexual offences.”
He also said that all politicians are “public figures” who must be prepared to accept criticism as well as praise.
Yesterday, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein reportedly demanded stern action on those who had stepped on pictures of the country’s leaders.