Uthaya Sankar’s arrest: “Gov’t must uphold right to freedom of expression,” says NGO

PEN International expressed its concern over the recent arrest of Malaysian writer Uthaya Sankar SB and called upon the Malaysian Government to ensure that the ongoing investigation is carried out in an impartial manner that is consistent with its international obligations concerning the right to freedom of expression.

Uthaya was arrested in a house at Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam on April 11 for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad via a social media post on April 7.

On April 8 Uthaya had taken to social media to lambast actor Iman Zulkarnain who was polygamous. In his post Uthaya associated the practice of polygamy with Prophet Muhammad.

He was referring to a Malaysiakini report on April 6 in which Iman said that he did not want to continue living a polygamous lifestyle.

“Uthaya Sankar SB’s arrest for his social media post highlights the limits of free expression in Malaysia on issues such as religion,” said PEN International’s Writers in Prison committee chair Ma Thida.

“However well intentioned, the authorities’ use of blasphemy legislation to investigate any alleged criticism of religion will do little to promote dialogue and mutual understanding which are central tenets to the promotion of religious harmony in any society.

“The Malaysian Government must abide by its obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression even at times when the words expressed may be uncomfortable to some.”

Uthaya had flatly rejected any claim that he criticised Islam or the Prophet Muhammad in his social media post, noting that he had a track record of writing numerous books and articles about Islam and other religions without issue.

As a result of his detention by the authorities, Uthaya stated that he would now avoid writing about Islam, stating “I always read about Islam, but I have learnt my lesson. I will keep away from Islam and not write anything about Islam in the future, that would be the best”.

According to PEN International the apparent chilling effect caused by the authorities’ investigation against Uthaya is an example of how the Malaysian Government’s use of blasphemy legislation results in the stifling of public discourse of religion, running into tension with international human rights standards concerning the right to freedom of expression.

“While hate speech must never be tolerated, the use of blasphemy legislation against even benign public statements regarding religion serves only to criminalise peaceful expression and risks fostering a climate of intolerance and social disharmony,” it noted. – April 21, 2022

Subscribe and get top news delivered to your Inbox everyday for FREE