Govt must step up and stamp out online sexual harassment in Malaysia now, say Pakatan reps

Soo Wern Jun
Three Pakatan representatives said that there is no specific guideline pertaining to sexual harassment in the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 — although it can be used to address general threats, and abusive and offensive language and conduct online. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Three Pakatan Harapan (PH) representatives have called on the government to not ignore online sexual harassment and immediately act against such threats.

In a joint statement today, Bandar Utama assemblyman Jamaliah Jamaluddin, Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei and Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said the delayed and/or non-action from the authorities seemed to be promoting this toxic behaviour.

It also gives these voices a stage and a microphone to amplify such abusive action to an audience, they added.

They also said that there is no specific guideline pertaining to sexual harassment in the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 — although it can be used to address general threats, and abusive and offensive language and conduct online.

“The recent death and rape threats made against the three of us on social media is a clear indication of how easily women can be targeted.

“Death and rape threats made online must be treated in the same way as if they were made offline.

“Therefore, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry and police must take swift and immediate action against the perpetrators of such crimes, including threats made against us,” the PH representatives said.

Citing the example of the recent suicide of a 20-year-old woman from Penang who became a victim of bullying on Facebook, Jamilah, Lim and Maria said it is also time for the government to bring in reforms to deal with online harassment in general, and in particular, those aimed at women.

“Harassment done online should not be seen as harmless or just ‘trolling’ acts because its ultimate aim is to bully and dehumanise a weaker person.

“As more of our children start using the internet at a young age, we do not want these impressionable young Malaysians to be swept up in a culture of bullying, abuse and hatred,” they said. 

They also suggested that reforms must encompass pre-emptive measures to create a safer online experience for everyone.

“It is the government’s duty and responsibility to promote model digital citizens by engaging them in online etiquette classes and media literacy courses formally from the primary school level onwards.

“We encourage the Education Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry to come up with clear steps on how to promote teaching children responsible engagement online as soon as possible.

“The Perikatan Nasional government should also put pressure on social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok to address hatred expressed online in Malaysia,” they said.

They added that there are also clear gaps in Malaysian law that must be addressed.

Current laws do not allow for victims to seek damages for sexual harassment, there is no designated officer that looks into sexual harassment cases, and victims do not get any immediate protection order to keep the offender away, they said.

“The government must implement a comprehensive Sexual Harassment Act as soon as possible.

“This Bill was already in the works under the PH-led government and was done alongside civil society organisations familiar with the issue.

“A Sexual Harassment Act is necessary because the current provisions under the Penal Code and Employment Act 1955 only address sexual harassment as a crime,” they said.

Explaining further, they pointed out that sexual harassment is an offence that requires a holistic reform approach as it requires quasi-judicial processes that has legal and non-legal approaches as well as taking on issues such as online and offline stalking, repeated abuses and others.

“The right to be protected against sexual harassment must be institutionalised and be complemented by awareness, training, internal inquiry processes as well as counselling services for both harasser and victim.

“These are the guidelines as stipulated in ‘The Code of Practice on the Prevention and Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 1999’, which was set up by the Ministry of Human Resources.”

They also viewed that the government must also address the stigma associated with the reporting of sexual harassment cases in Malaysia.

“The lack of options that victims of sexual harassment face is absolutely unacceptable in this day and age.

“While the authorities must be empowered to act against such incidences, we must also ensure that sexual harassment is taken seriously by everyone,” they said.

The police have confirmed they are investigating the online harassment of two DAP assemblywomen, after they allegedly received death threats on Facebook.

Petaling Jaya police chief Asst Comm Nik Ezanee Mohd Faisal said the case is being looked into under Section 507 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

Section 507 of the Code refers to the offence of anonymous criminal intimidation which is punishable by two years’ imprisonment, while Section 233 of the Act refers to the sharing of offensive and menacing content, which is punishable with a fine of no more than RM50,000, one year imprisonment, or both.

Both Jamilah and Lim have been the target of recent online harassment, after a Facebook user with the moniker, “Najid Nabi”, posted racial remarks as well as made rape and murder threats.

It is understood the user created the Facebook account on May 19 and began harassing the two assemblymen the following day.

As for Maria, she had received a death threat, along with her three sons, former Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Mandeep Karpali and Hakam president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan. 

It was reported that the threats made by the “Islamic State Malaysia” were sent through WhatsApp and show digitally edited images of Maria, Ambiga, Mandeep and Maria’s three sons kneeling before a masked man holding a knife to their throats. 

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