26 June 2020
The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) is shocked to learn that CodeBlue news site editor-in-chief Boo Su-Lyn has been summoned by the police for investigation under the Penal Code and the Official Secrets Act (OSA). The investigation is in relation to her articles on the findings of an independent inquiry committee into the fire at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bahru that occurred in 2016. The fire resulted in 6 deaths.
This investigation is tantamount to intimidation and is clearly aimed at silencing voices that are critical of the administration of this country. It also undermines the importance of safeguarding the right to freedom of information and the urgent need to check the continued application of the draconian OSA which has been arbitrarily used to mask corrupt practices and obstruct the public from accessing pertinent information related to matters that are of public interest.
Over the 48 years the OSA has been in force, we have witnessed how the law has been used as an effective means of ensuring that information on government is kept secret. The OSA acts as a deterrent given its broad-spectrum definitions, strict liability offences, and extensive enforcement powers that create culpability even when there is no criminal intent or nexus. The arbitrary nature of the OSA and the absence of oversight mechanisms therefore shield the government from public scrutiny and accountability, particularly in matters of public interest such as corruption and abuse of power.
It is worth reminding that only yesterday the Prime Minister announced that the government would continue its efforts to improve governance and integrity through the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023 (NACP). Strategy 1.2.8 of the NACP clearly spells out the government’s commitment to enact a freedom of information legislation. This is in line with Malaysia’s international obligation under article 13(1)(b) of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which Malaysia signed in 2003 and ratified in 2008. Article 13(1)(b) of the UNCAC requires the State Party to ensure that the public has effective access to information.
The investigation unleashed by the police against CodeBlue’s editor-in-chief runs counter to the announcement made by the Prime Minister. The act of writing about and disclosing the findings related to the fire was done to safeguard public interest and therefore should be protected and not be treated as a crime.
The then Health Minister also affirmed the importance of making the findings public in the news report dated 31 October 2019 where he stated that “The Cabinet has decided to be transparent on the findings and we are in the midst of declassifying the document so that it can be made public. What we want is transparency, including the weaknesses of the hospital or others (agencies), which will be revealed next week.”
In light of the foregoing, C4 urges:
- the investigation against CodeBlue’s editor-in-chief be immediately dropped
the OSA be immediately repealed and replaced with the freedom of information act.