Abu Talib’s first challenge as new Suhakam Chairman is to conduct full public inquiry into increasingly grave  violations of the constitutionally-entrenched human   right  to freedom of speech,  expression and the press illustrated by press blackout of critical responses to his appointment

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman’s first challenge as the new Suhakam Chairman is to conduct a full public  inquiry into the increasingly grave violations of the constitutionally-entrenched human right to freedom of speech,  expression and the press best illustrated by the press blackout of critical responses to his appointment in the mainstream print and electronic media in the last two days.  

Such an inquiry is particularly imperative for at least four  reasons:  

If critical responses and comments not about the Prime Minister or Cabinet Ministers but about  Abu Talib’s appointment as Suhakam Chairman are also deemed “unacceptable” or  “impermissible” and have to be blacked out in the mainstream electronic and Bahasa Malaysia/English print media, it must be a wake-up call to all Malaysians about the parlous state of freedom of speech, expression and the press in the country – and in particular, to Suhakam, which is entrusted and mandated by Parliament in the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 to “protect and promote” human rights in Malaysia.  

I hope Abu Talib can agree that the state of the right to freedom of speech, expression and the press, which had unfortunately been ignored or overlooked by the first Suhakam in the past two years, warrants urgent and immediate attention and action to turn the tide of erosion and to build ramparts to strengthen free and responsible press institutions in the country. 

Although I have expressed great reservations about the suitability of Abu Talib’s appointment as the new Suhakam Chairman in my media statement yesterday, because of his antecedents particularly when he served as Attorney-General from 1980 – 1983 when he was responsible in helping in putting in the statute books some of the most draconian laws not only in the nation’s history but in the world, such as ousting judicial review in ISA detentions in 1988, I have nothing personal against the new Suhakam Chairman.  

It is only right and proper that Abu Talib should be fully aware of these grave reservations on his taking up his appointment as the second Suhakam Chairman. Similarly,  it is only right and proper that having been conferred  the royal appointment, Abu Talib should be given the time and opportunity to prove these grave reservations wrong  by demonstrating that he could be a good Suhakam Chairman – although he would not have a lot of time, as human rights in Malaysia is facing an acute crisis in the wake of the 911 exploitation by the government to justify a whole spectrum of  unprecedented violations of fundamental liberties.  

In this connection, I call on Abu Talib to set an example of openness, accountability and transparency by publicly  declaring his business and corporate interests, as he is on the board of over half a dozen companies, to ensure that there could be no conflict of interest in the discharge of his duties as Suhakam Chairman as his corporate interests.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman