The ten arrested for spreading rumours through email about bomb attacks should be let off with a stern warning if they had no malicious intent to create chaos and havoc

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Thursday): Police have said that it has completed investigations into 10 people who had been arrested and released on bail for allegedly spreading malicious rumours through e-mail about bomb attacks in the Federal capital and that the investigation papers would be forwarded to the Attorney-General's Chambers for further action.

The ten suspects were arrested in Penang (seven), Kuala Lumpur (two) and Petaling Jaya (one).

Helping to spread rumours by indiscriminately forwarding emails about pre-planned bombings in the Federal capital, including the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, even if done innocently without any bad intention, is the height of irresponsibility as it could create chaos and havoc in our plural society.

There can however be no justification for invoking the detention-without-trial Internal Security Act (ISA) to deal with it as there are adequate provisions under existing laws on irresponsible rumour-mongering including on the Internet for such persons to be charged in the courts of law.

It is important that the authorities make a clear distinction between those who spread the rumours on the Internet with evil intent to create chaos and havoc and those who irresponsibly but without malicious intent forwarded such emails.

To denounce and treat the latter as "traitors" is to debase and devalue the term "treason", which will be the greatest disservice to the country by giving the real traitors a sense of righteousness by blurring the distinction between an ordinary offence and a heinous crime.

For this reason, the Attorney-General, Datuk Gani Patail should exercise the discretion entrusted to him under the Constitution and let off the ten arrested for spreading rumours through email about bomb attacks in the Federal capital with a stern warning if they had no malicious intent - serving as a grave warning not only to them but to all Malaysians about the need to exercise special care in the information era in our plural society when handling cyber-rumours.

The best weapon against rumours is instant and credible information, which can be accepted by the people without any doubt.

Rumours have always been a fact of life in any society, but they can become very serious in a society where official information channels have low credibility as a result of prolonged information deficit.

With the advent of information technology and the Internet, the problem created by rumours takes on new dimensions.

While those who use the Internet to spread malicious and wicked rumours to destabilise society should be dealt with mercilessly, the authorities must handle the problems brought about by information technology and Internet in a "smart" manner.

By all means, the police should take action against those using the Internet to create mischief and chaos in the Malaysian society - provided these mischievous elements can be caught - but ordinary Malaysians who use the Internet to try to verify disturbing "news", which may turn out to be rumours, should not be treated like "criminals" - least of all as "saboteurs" and "traitors".

Instead of a witch-hunt on the Internet, the Police and the authorities should have an IT team which can immediately nip the rumours on the Internet in the bud, by informing all netizens that rumours being spread are completely without basis, not just by bare denials, but with facts which can make such denials credible.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman