The Star CEO Wong: I have right to comment on bible-burning issue
PETALING JAYA: Star Publications Bhd chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai has hit out at detractors who criticised him for questioning the decision not to prosecute Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali over the Bible-burning remark.
Wong said he was entitled to comment on the decision made by the Attorney-General’s Chambers “just like other Malaysians who have the right to comment on contemporary issues”.
“It is not the monopoly of politicians and non-governmental organisations,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Wong said he was not the only one who had commented on the issue.
“Many other Malaysians, including Cabinet ministers, have expressed their sentiments. We have the right to comment on the decision of the A-G.
“As responsible and moderate Malaysians, we should focus our energy on bringing people together, not making statements that cause disunity,” he said.
Negri Sembilan Perkasa chief Ruslan Kassim. in a statement on Monday, urged Wong to stop “all the provocations” against Ibrahim and said that Wong need not teach the Attorney-General how to do his work.
Global Movement of Moderates chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah defended Wong, saying that Malaysians have the right to comment on the decision by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
“The Attorney-General is not immune. One can always criticise people who commented on the Attorney-General’s decision, but the criticism should be on their statement.
“You can criticise a comment but to stop a person from commenting only shows that you do not understand democracy.
“Ruslan Kassim should argue against Wong’s reasoning, not stop him from commenting,” said Saifuddin.
Similar views were shared by unity advocate and author Anas Zubedy, who said Malaysians should be encouraged to speak up and comment when something was not right.
“We must not forget a very popular tradition by the first Caliph of Islam, Sayyidina Abu Bakar.
“He said that when he is right, follow him, but when he is wrong, correct him.
“If Malaysians feel that someone did wrong, we should be able to speak up and correct him,” said Anas.
In his On The Beat column on Sunday (see below: A mind-bloggling spin), Wong said the Attorney-General would set a dangerous precedent with his decision not to file charges against Ibrahim based on “context” and “intention”, which are matters that should be decided by the court.
“In future, any extremist, of whatever faith, can call for the burning of any holy book and then cite the same pathetic reason that he or she is merely defending the sanctity of his or her religion,” Wong said.
Last week, the Attorney-General’s Chambers said that no legal action was taken against Ibrahim because he was “defending the sanctity of Islam” and had no intention to create religious disharmony when he called for the burning of Bibles containing the word “Allah”.
Politicians from both sides of the divide have urged the Attorney-General to review the case against Ibrahim.
The Star/Asia News Network Nov 5 2014
A mind-boggling spin
IT smacks of double standards and no one can fault moderate-minded Malaysians, who have some sense of justice and fairness, to feel that the statement from the Attorney-General’s Chambers lacks any conviction.
The ordinary Malaysians are finding it difficult to be convinced by the legal arguments put up by the Attorney-General on why Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali, who had called for the burning of the Bahasa Malaysia Bible, has not breached sedition laws.
We are now told that Ibrahim was merely defending the sanctity of Islam. No one can accept this mind-boggling spin, more so when it comes from the principal legal adviser to the government.
It is appropriate that former Court of Appeal judge Datuk K.C. Vohrah and the former head of the prosecution division of the AGC, Datuk Stanley Isaacs, have put forth their views (The Star, Oct 23, Oct 31 and Nov 1) on why the A-G’s legal reasoning cannot stand. Vohrah had also served in the AGC and is fully aware of how the system works.
The A-G’s decision not to file charges against Ibrahim based on “context” and “intention”, which are actually matters for the court to decide under the Sedition Act, is a dangerous precedent.
In future, any extremist, of whatever faith, can call for the burning of any holy book, and then cite the same pathetic reason that he or she was merely defending the sanctity of his or her religion.
It is simply unacceptable for anyone to belittle another religion, and worse still, in this particular case, even calling for the burning of a holy book.
We were already shocked by the reply from the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri in Parliament and the A-G’s statement justifying Ibrahim’s action certainly made matters worse.
We are now told that we must read Ibrahim’s remarks “in the entire context”. Going by the same argument, how then does the A-G justify the other recent sedition cases?
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also weighed in with a comment that Ibrahim “was giving an opinion that could be accepted by Muslims as it was not seditious”.
Those of us who have followed closely the political career of the former prime minister would know that he has always stood by his supporters, in this case, Ibrahim. But with due respect to Dr Mahathir, we believe he should and would also stand by the side of justice and fairness, as we are sure he would oppose any form of extremism.
But the statements from the A-G and Dr Mahathir are unacceptable because what they are saying, in short and simple layman’s language, is that Ibrahim has done no wrong and they wonder what the fuss is all about.
Ibrahim can actually now say that he can carry on with what he has said. After all, the A-G, who is the sole authority in deciding who to prosecute, has not only let him off, but given us reasons that basically open the door for similar actions in the future. And it certainly does not help that Dr Mahathir, with his own way of reasoning over the burning of holy books, has stood by him.
The A-G’s argument on “context” and “intention” sounds more like what the defence counsel for Ibrahim would say if he had been charged. And even then, going by the provisions of the Sedition Act, such a defence would probably be struck down.
So we are to believe that Ibrahim is merely expressing an opinion which is not seditious. How convenient.
My fellow columnist in The Star and Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom has been charged with sedition for expressing an opinion which is not even about religion or race.
Many Malaysians are still wondering how Azmi’s opinion could have caused offence or threatened national security, while a number of high-profile and consistently recalcitrant extremists continue to get away with their offensive statements.
Who can blame Malaysians if they deem that the authorities are being selective in who they haul up for sedition.
If anyone dares to call for the burning of the Quran, I am confident that all rational-minded Malaysians will rise up and ask for the person to be arrested immediately and be charged with sedition.
If there is any non-Muslim stupid enough to make such a call, then all the non-Muslims in this country must speak out. No non-Muslim should remain silent if such an offensive remark is made to cause offence to their fellow citizens who are Muslims.
Likewise, I think Malaysians expect the same response from non-Christians when someone calls for the destruction of the Bible.
And the ordinary people’s response must be supported by the politicians and the leaders. It is very sad for Malaysia when politicians keep a deafening silence when gross injustice is done.
We expect our politicians to be the leaders of all Malaysians, regardless of their race and faith, and not to merely represent the interests of their own race.
No one should have the suspicion or perception that only the feelings of one race matters in Malaysia.
All it takes is for one individual or one NGO to express a negative view on the activities of another community, be it with regard to Oktoberfest, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, a concert or whatever, and suddenly the whole nation is engulfed in a major debate which takes up so much valuable time and resources, especially from the authorities who have more serious matters to deal with.
In a maturing democracy, we cannot prevent anyone from articulating their views and beliefs, even those that we find most objectionable.
Our challenge is to remind ourselves that while they do not represent the majority view, they must not be allowed to gain ground because the majority has chosen to remain silent. The voices of moderation must ring out loud and clear, all the time.
In a plural society like ours, everyone has the right to practise and celebrate any occasion. It is certainly far-fetched and even laughable to suggest that there are atheists and non-Muslims who want to weaken the faith of their fellow Malaysians.
Events like Halloween and Valentine’s Day do not even have any religious significance. In fact, they are nothing more than commercially driven opportunities for the entertainment and food outlets.
We should be thankful that we are a nation where religion is paramount. The first principle of our Rukunegara espouses our “Belief in God”.
But our faith is not just about religious rulings and paraphernalia. It is in the way we live our lives – how we exhibit compassion, mercy, justice for fellow human beings, and in our concerns over what is wrong and unjustifiable in our country, be it with regard to corruption, intolerance, violence, and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.
These should be the concerns of all religious leaders in their sermons and statements, instead of dwelling on petty issues. They should focus on common values shared by all Malaysians instead of dividing us further.
The Kelantan PAS state government is now determined to go ahead with the implementation of hudud law and again, non-Muslims are expected to believe that they would not be affected by these Islamic laws.
Whatever our faith, we are all closely linked in our daily lives. The laws peculiar to one faith, if implemented in a plural society, will have implications for everyone. To even suggest non-Muslims are not affected is laughable but there will be non-Muslims, because of their anger towards the federal government, who would actually want to believe so and even vote for PAS, which has never hidden its Islamist plans and ambition.
Let’s get our priorities and bearings right.
Malaysia is at the crossroads. We can, as a united people, go straight and take the middle path, and be sure we are on the correct track where we support one another.
Or we can allow ourselves to be divided and take different roads, which will mean we no longer believe in a common destiny.
Our choice is simple – we must all fight to keep Malaysia moderate and inclusive, and fully embrace the vision of our founding fathers.
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.
On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
A case of selective non-prosecution
The case of Datuk Ibrahim Ali not being charged with sedition over his Bible-burning remarks remains a perplexing one for Malaysians seeking an answer to what they feel is an example of ‘selective non-prosecution’.
THE Attorney-General decided last week not to charge Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali with sedition for uttering words to the effect that Malay Bibles should be burned.
It is the same law under which nearly a dozen activists had been charged.
Although the Federal Constitution gives the A-G sole discretion whether to charge a person or not, that decision not to charge Ibrahim has invited considerable criticisms not only from retired judges and prosecutors but also from former and serving political leaders, priests and laymen.
They felt that the A-G’s decision was faulty, untenable and even smacks of double standards.
The legal arguments notwithstanding, the damage to inter-ethnic relations and to inter-religious harmony is incalculable.
Christians are upset because they felt there is a clear case of sedition but Ibrahim “escaped” being charged because the A-G stated that “he had no intention to create religious disharmony” when he called for the burning of those Bibles.
While judges and lawyers will argue over intention and context, the A-G decided that he would not lay charges because he thinks the “intention” was absent.
The A-G has usurped the powers of the courts.
“It is for the courts to decide “intention”, not him.
His decision means that Ibrahim got away scot-free.
And that is unacceptable to those who feel that Ibrahim has crossed the line and deserves to be punished.
They find it difficult to buy the A-G’s reasoning.
“It smacks of double standards,” said a well-known lawyer who declined to be named. “You can’t fault ordinary Malaysians for thinking otherwise.”
“This decision by the A-G is simply mind-blowing.
“His decision not to charge Ibrahim Ali is not only bad in law but he also walks a political minefield,” he said.
“His job is to lay the charges as he had on a dozen other activists who were charged with sedition.
“Let the court decide whether any of them had any ill-intention,” he said.
“Is Ibrahim Ali so influential that he is untouchable?” he asked.
There has been all sorts of speculation in the aftermath of the A-G’s decision, which was perceived to be bending backwards to accommodate right wing forces.
Another lawyer pointed out former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s support for Ibrahim.
Dr Mahathir made a big mistake by standing by Ibrahim and supporting him with his convoluted thoughts, the lawyer said.
“He should have stood behind moderate Malaysians in the country who are aghast at the way things are becoming,” she said.
Who can blame Malaysians for thinking that the authorities are being selective in deciding who to haul up in court when it comes to laying sedition charges?
Ordinary Malaysians are speaking up in the ways they know, in social media, on Twitter and Facebook.
These critics posted nasty comments on how Ibrahim is walking free and how the A-G, instead of laying charges, is acting like a defence lawyer.
Why is the reaction to “burning Malay Bibles” as uttered by Ibrahim so muted?
Why is it so defensive? Why is Dr Mahathir defending Ibrahim? Why is the A-G giving excuses for Ibrahim?
These are questions which ordinary Malaysians find perplexing.
The A-G should also use wisely the discretions allowed to him.
He should always have an ear on the ground on what the public feels is the right thing to do.
You can’t go wrong because this is a participatory democracy and not a dictatorship of a few over many.
>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.