Anwar commits to free press, but draws line at 3R issues

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim says that everyone has the freedom to criticise or disagree with the government but they must not incite hatred towards the royalty or promote religious fanaticism. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, May 27, 2024.

THE government will uphold media freedom but will not allow incitement based on race, religion and royalty (3R), said Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

He said that everyone has the freedom to criticise or disagree with the government but they must not incite hatred towards the royalty or promote religious fanaticism.

“I want to become the prime minister who upholds a free media, but we have to draw the line. While you are permitted to criticise or disagree with the prime minister or the government, you can’t incite hatred based on race, royalty or religious fanaticism.

“There was a recent incident where His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim, King of Malaysia, was criticised, or there was an insinuation that the king is now negotiating with the prime minister to build a casino in Forest City, partly owned by the king. However, there is no basis for this claim.

“We want to protect the institution. There must be some mechanisms protecting the royal institution.

“The king is supposed to embody the national spirit, be the fountain of mercy, and a symbol of unity. Therefore, you can’t drag him into the mud of politics,” he said in his closing speech at the National Journalists’ Day (Hawana) 2024 celebration in Kuching, Sarawak, according to media reports.

He also said that the government will not tolerate religious fanaticism as it would destroy the country.

“Do you accept a fatwa from a so-called scholar from a political party saying that Muslims cannot support a non-Muslim to be elected in the country? Of course, you cannot. It will destroy the country.

“We will not tolerate this (religious fanaticism) as it will break the foundation of this country.

“Don’t confuse this issue with media freedom. You can use the media to explain, but you are inciting so much hatred.

“Saying that Muslims cannot vote for non-Muslims is not acceptable in this country, and we will not allow this,” he said.

In the recently concluded Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had urged Muslim voters to vote for Perikatan Nasional’s Muslim candidate.

He had made similar remarks during the last general election.

A week ago, Anwar, in an interview with Al Jazeera, said that criticism of the government is permissible in Malaysia but there are boundaries to media freedom, particularly concerning sensitive topics of race, religion and royalty.

He said while advocating for media freedom, he certainly does not condone actions that may incite riots or endanger public safety.

“It doesn’t matter whether we are being downgraded, but what is important is that criticism is allowed… the issue is when you touch 3R issues, condemning race, condemning religions, inviting and inciting riots. We cannot afford to have that in our country,” he had said.

Anwar said this when asked to comment on Malaysia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, which saw a significant drop of 34 places from 73 to 107 within a year.

Nevertheless, he said under his administration, the government had not arrested any journalist or banned any newspaper in the country for their criticism of the government. – May 27, 2024.

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