Muhyiddin urges Asean to legislate against online hate speech, threats based on race, gender, sexual orientation
Muhyiddin’s remark for the region appears to contrast a stance taken by his own administration against Malaysia’s gender and sexual minorities. — Picture via Facebook

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 21 — Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has called on Asean member-states today to consider enacting laws against online hate speech and posts advocating violence and attacks on other users.

In his keynote address at the inaugural Asean Digital Ministers’ Meeting (ADGMIN1) this morning, he said such legislation can be formed to compel digital platforms to remove or mete out punishment for any speech threatening others, even for their gender and sexual orientation.

“It can be verbal or physical, and includes but is not limited to harassment and threats against a person or persons based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or nationality,” Muhyiddin said.

His remark for the region appears to contrast a stance taken by his own administration against Malaysia’s gender and sexual minorities.

Just earlier this week, deputy religious affairs minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary from PAS said the Perikatan Nasional administration is not ruling out the possibility of amending the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 to provide for heavier punishments on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Ahmad Marzuk claimed that the current sentence under the Act, which provides for a three year imprisonment, a fine of RM5,000 and six strokes of the cane,  is perceived as not having much effect on such groups of individuals.

The prime minister also advocated that legislation be developed by Asean members to enhance data privacy and users’ rights, which can be applicable to any digital entity practising in the region.

He said in doing so, digital platforms can be mandated to assume greater accountability, allowing them to be sued as long as they have control over their products.

Such legislation would also be crucial when it concerns security in cyberspace, thus necessitating a review of existing laws to accommodate new technologies and challenges.

“Technology has evolved at a rapid pace and with it the emergence of new cyber threats and new challenges. As such, there must be a mechanism to enable the existing laws to be applied in cyberspace and new laws be enacted if the need arises.

“Malaysia also recognises the cross-border nature of cyber crimes and the challenges in bringing cybercriminals to justice as this requires a coordinated and integrated regional approach,” he said.

Muhyiddin also spoke of Malaysia being given the privilege to coordinate the development of the Asean Digital Masterplan 2025, which was launched at ADGMIN1.

“The masterplan aims to guide the development of the regional digital sector over the next five years, and incorporates efforts to support digital transformation for the traditional sectors, and to create a fair and competitive digital marketplace.

“It also builds a safe and reliable digital environment, creates intelligent digital citizens, realises Asean as an inclusive, sustainable and accessible digital ecosystem and, eventually, creates Asean as a competitive digital economy bloc,” he said.

Muhyiddin added he is confident that ADGMIN1 will be able to strengthen the cooperation among Asean countries in developing a digital ecosystem as the backbone in their respective post Covid-19 development plans.

The prime minister touched on the importance of Asean working with the world’s biggest economies including China, Japan, and the United States.

“These are also the most developed and sophisticated economies in the digital era. There may be differences and tensions across the Pacific between the United States and China, but we are happy to work with them all.

“In doing so we stand to gain from each of these partner countries. While we hope they can cooperate better together, we should also cooperate more with each one of them. By working through Asean Plus Three, we can promote digital engagements and encourage information and communications technology investments from China, Japan and South Korea,” he said.