Burning Foreign Flags is Expression

The recent proposal to per se ban the burning of flags of foreign countries must be seriously reconsidered.

Among other controversial proposals, Parliament is currently considering a proposed amendment to the Penal Code which would introduce a new section 121E which reads as follows:-

Destruction, etc. of national emblem

121E. (1) Whoever mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, tramples on, desecrates, destroys, insults or questions with the intention of dishonouring any national emblem or flag of a foreign nation shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than fifteen years, and shall also be liable to fine.

(2) Whoever uses, recognizes or promotes the use of any flag that purports to represent Malaysia other than the flag specified as the Malaysian flag under the Schedule to the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1963 [Act 414], or any State in Malaysia other than the flag provided for under the relevant legislation of each State, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years and not more than fifteen years, and shall also be liable to fine.

(3) For the purpose of this section, “national emblem” has the meaning assigned under the National Emblems (Control of Display) Act 1949 [Act 193].

Section 2 of Act 193 defines “national emblem” as meaning “any flag, banner or other emblem being or purporting to be the flag, banner or other emblem of any State, or the flag, banner or other emblem of any political organization claiming to be a national movement in any State or any likeness or resemblance however reproduced of any national leader or former national leader of any State or the leader or former leader of any such political organization.

Burning the flag of a foreign country is very rarely done.

Foreign flags have little meaning for Malaysians. They do not generally interest Malaysians at all.

But there are times when some of the people in another country are oppressed , suppressed or even tyrannised by their own governments for some reason or other. The oppressed people are not allowed to criticise their own government in their own country by law or by their fear of being victimised by those in power or by being taken away not to be seen again assisted by oppressive laws.

In such a situation the people from that other country ought to be free to come to free Malaysia to protest. In such circumstances even Malaysians themselves should be allowed to protest. If Malaysians who want peace and harmony the world over and not merely in their own backyard, did not protest, they would be lowered in their estimation in the eyes of enlightened people everywhere. The freedom of Malaysians to protest against oppression and tyranny anywhere in the world ought not to be stifled.

The Malaysian Government itself may for some reason have friendly relations with that oppressive regime but Malaysians, as individuals or as well meaning citizens, should not have their fundamental right to protest in a democratic manner criminalised.

Malaysia must always be free and democratic.Malaysians must be humane, kind and considerate. Malaysian law must not require Malaysians to turn a blind eye to any humanitarian crises anywhere.

Ordinary Malaysians can distinguish between cranks and legitimate protesters.

Our Government and our laws should not be seen to protect authoritarian regimes in other countries who oppress and tyrannise  sections of their own people.

We ought not to be seen by any stretch of the imagination to aid and abet crimes against humanity in some other part of the world.

Parliament must seriously reconsider this proposal.


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Kanesalingam A is a lawyer in Kuala Lumpur. He is a Trustee of the Tamils Relief Fund. The Fund, established in 1985, is dedicated to providing relief and rehabilitation to the Tamils of Sri Lanka affected by the armed conflict in that country.

Posted on 1 October 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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3 Responses to Burning Foreign Flags is Expression

  1. Vexillologist

    Foreign flags have little meaning for Malaysians, really?

    I am against this, pollution in the name of freedom of expression. root for me will ya?!