NIBONG TEBAL (Penang) — A Penang police probe into a secondary school student for sedition for allegedly liking an “I love Israel” Facebook page has sparked an outcry in Malaysia, with some questioning the action and others criticising the police’s move.
Anti-Israel sentiments have been running high in Malaysia since the outbreak of conflict on July 8 between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, where close to 2,000 people have died, most of them Palestinian civilians.
On news portal The Malay Mail’s Facebook page, one user commented: “Stupid teen! Why love the country that killing children & women?!!”
Internet users have also criticised the move. “What about all the people who visit Israel? Are they under investigation too?” asked user B Huan Yap on The Malaysian Insider’s Facebook page.
The 17-year-old student had on Monday gone to the police to file a report and seek aid, after he had been threatened with immolation over the Facebook “like”, which was allegedly screen captured and circulated by a teacher from his school. Instead, he was yesterday called in by the police for questioning.
“We are investigating him under Section 4 (1) (a) of the Sedition Act,” Penang police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi told reporters.
Under Malaysia’s laws, sedition includes acts that raise discontent or disaffection among people in the country and promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population.
“In his statement, he claimed that he had accidentally clicked ‘like’ on the (Facebook) page,” Mr Rahim said, referring to the teen’s recorded statement.
He added that the police had on Tuesday questioned the teacher who allegedly circulated the captured image of the post and criticised the student on Facebook.
The teacher’s post also attracted criticism and threats from other users of the social network.
Another teacher purportedly from the same school had gone a step further, leaving on the first teacher’s Facebook page, which was accessible only to her friends, a message that read: “Kita bakor je hahaha (We just burn hahaha).”
South Seberang Perai district police chief Shafein Mamat said more teachers and students from the school will be called to give their statements.
“We are investigating both aspects, one of him liking the controversial page and another of the threats against him,” Mr Shafein said.
The student has since deactivated his Facebook account. “He is now living in fear for liking the page,” said Mr Rahim.
Meanwhile, Penang education department director Osman Hussain said the teacher responsible for the Facebook post that led to the student being vilified and threatened would be served a reminder not to take to the social network to discuss her students. “If she does it again, she will be transferred out of Penang,” he said.
Mr Osman also warned teachers and students in the state not to repeat such actions.
“What happened is a lesson to all educational institutions. We want such incidents to stop. If not, we will take action and let the police handle it.”
Mr Osman said his department was holding discussions with all parties involved, including the school, teachers, students and parents, to reach an understanding. “There will be counselling for students and teachers to promote better respect, understanding and tolerance among one another,” he said.
“We have to think like Malaysians. We are not like other Muslim countries or other big countries, so we must think differently from others. Students must learn to respect one another and teachers must also remember that no matter how bad their students can be, they are still their students,” Mr Osman said.
On Sunday, Muslim non-governmental organisations in Malaysia launched a concerted month-long campaign to boycott fast food franchise McDonald’s, coffee chain Starbucks, British bank HSBC, soft drink brand Coca-Cola and Swiss multinational firm Nestle, among other companies, over their purported support for Israel.
The maximum penalty for sedition is a fine of RM5,000 (S$1,960) or three years in jail, or both, for first-time offenders.