KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 – Rape and death threats online, such as those faced by a radio host recently, can lead to actual violence at a time when political parties are firing up inter-communal tensions, said a human rights activist. Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said this was because outbreaks of genocide the world over begin with the idea that it was okay to kill individuals who were different or held dissenting views. So although people only threatened to rape and kill BFM radio host Aisyah Tajuddin, the fact that some groups have legitimised that idea was dangerous enough.
The threats come against the backdrop of intense debate over the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Code, which has divided Malaysians and inflamed Muslim hardliners, who have conflated hudud with the religion. “There are other factors leading to an outbreak of violence. But it all starts with threats like this. This is why it is a problem that you cannot sweep under the carpet. “It shows that there are already ordinary people in this country who believe that this kind of thing is okay,” said Fadiah Nadwa at a talk yesterday on the BFM video clip which Aisyah was involved in.
BFM was forced to take down a video on Kelantan PAS’ Shariah Criminal Code after Aisyah was threatened with rape and death through social media. The video had angered Muslim conservatives because it satirised the Kelantan PAS government’s decision to push through the enforcement of its controversial Shariah law or “hudud”. Its critics claimed the video insulted Islam, but politicians and activists have countered that this did not justify those threats against her.
The station and its host have apologised but they are currently being investigated for blasphemy. The police have said they will track down those who had made threats against Aisyah. Fadiah compared what was said about BFM and Aisyah with the propaganda that was spread during Indonesia’s Communist purge by the Suharto regime in the 1960s. “The message then was it was okay to kill so-called communists because they do not pray and they do not believe in God.
“People in rural areas believed this and they went around with their parang to kill those they labelled communists. This happens when you allow extremism to continue.” The controversy it sparked was being used by those in power to further suppress dissenting views, he said. Proof of this was that the inspector-general of police is now saying that only those religious experts can talk about religion. “There is no such thing in law as this. Now there is also the perception that any law which is labelled religious cannot be questioned.
“Also it will come to a point where if you challenge these laws in court, judges will not want to touch the cases,” said Syahredzan. Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari said the extreme reactions to the BFM video showed that Malaysians were unable to manage the challenges of freedom of expression because they were not used to thinking freely. “Ever since we are young, we are told not to question. We are curtailed from thinking independently.”
Such a mindset crippled the ability to respond and engage with differing and complex views especially those which touch a raw nerve, he said. Zairil said a mature, thinking society could not be developed by clamping down on freedom of expression. “Freedom of expression nurtures that maturity. The right response to the BFM video is to counter it with your own arguments, which is what someone did with their own video.”
Syahredzan echoed this, saying the limits on freedom of expression should not be determined by how angry people might feel towards something that was said. The threshold for whether something crosses the line is when someone threatens to physically harm someone else over what was said. “Some say those who threatened Aisyah were also exercising their freedom of expression, so their rights should also be respected. But the difference is that Aisyah never threatened anyone with physical harm.”