Heidy Quah, the founder of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Refuge for the Refugees, was charged with improper use of network facilities by initiating the transmission of offensive communications on refugees in Malaysia using her Facebook account.
The 27-year-old pleaded not guilty in the Sessions Court yesterday (27 July) before Judge M. M. Edwin Paramjothy and was allowed bail of RM2,000 with one surety and the court set 6 September for mention.
Facebook post detailing really bad conditions of the immigration detention centre
In 5 June 2020, Heidy wrote about her experience when visiting a refugee who was detained. In her FB post, a female refugee told her:
According to BERNAMA, Heidy was charged with knowingly making and initiating the transmission of offensive communications by claiming refugees at the Immigration detention centre were ill-treated with intent to annoy others in her Facebook post.
She was charged under Section 233 (1) (a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which states that the accused can face a maximum fine of RM50,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. The accused can also face a further fine of RM1,000 for each day the offence is continued after conviction.
Her case caused public outrage as this seemingly limits what rakyat is able to speak out about. Many Malaysians pointed out that authorities should be looking into the detention centre instead of charging Heidy.
Malaysian politicians stand with Heidy
Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh, DAP politician Lim Yi Wei and MBPJ councillor Nalina Nair were present in court to stand in solidarity with Heidy.
- “When young people in Malaysia are being charged for speaking up and fighting for those who are vulnerable, we stand with them,” Hannah Yeoh said in a Facebook post.
- “Heidy has been doing good and difficult work in Refuge For The Refugees, the NGO she founded 9 years ago. Instead of charging her, why does the government not disprove her posting or work with NGOs to improve conditions in detention centres? There is something very wrong in this country when people are charged for telling the truth,” Yi Wei wrote.
- “Instead of correcting the wrongs of that immigration detention centre, this incompetent backdoor government chose to intimidate Heidy Quah. Last week, it was YB Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. This week, it’s Heidy Quah. Who will you intimidate next week? Stop this charade!” Nalina Nair said.
Syed Saddiq also highlighted the issue in a Tweet. “If the government does not want to speak, let the people speak. The truth will prevail,” he said.
“We should not be silenced for speaking up.”
One day before she was charged in court, Heidy explained that her post was intended to highlight her concerns about the conditions in immigration detention centres and the harm that would be caused by sending more people into these centres that were known to be overcrowded and unhygienic.
“As I head to court tomorrow, I still stand by this – what I spoke up about wasn’t unfounded. In fact, SUHAKAM’s Annual Reports reflect the very concerns I had then, and even now; poor hygiene standards at the depot, abuse, mistreatment, neglect, and poor sanitation, all of which could increase risks of infections and other communicable diseases spreading – something we definitely do not want, especially during a global pandemic,” she wrote.
In an update on 27 July after pleading not guilty in court, Heidy said that she was okay and expressed her gratitude to those who showed up in solidarity with her.
“I stand by this – we should not be silenced for speaking up. Telling the truth isn’t a crime. Letting violence happen to the vulnerable is. Let’s stop instilling fear in our youth for speaking the truth to justice. Let’s stop silencing Malaysians who care. Instead of investigating whistleblowers, we need to investigate allegations,” she said.
Despite being charged in court and the ordeals she had to pull through, Heidy said that she is not going to stop working.
“Now, time to gear up – back to bridging the gaps and meeting the needs. My team and I will be providing food aid to 700 families this weekend. Thankful for my fantastic, tireless team who is working harder than ever to meet the growing needs. The work doesn’t stop. We march on.”
Stay strong, Heidy!