KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has warned Malaysians not to abuse freedom of speech in the aftermath of riots that took place near a Hindu temple in Selangor earlier this week.
In parliament on Thursday (Nov 29), Dr Mahathir said that while the government refrains from imposing barriers to communication and news reporting, this freedom "must be used with full responsibility and not to exploit circumstances that may lead to inter-racial breakups and disharmony".
"The right and freedom of speech does not mean a person can say whatever that is deemed provocative," he added.
He made these comments while delivering a statement to lawmakers regarding the riots that happened near the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple early Monday and Tuesday.
During the incident, 23 vehicles were torched, a section of the nearby One City mall was damaged and a firefighter was seriously injured.
In the aftermath of the incident, several conflicting claims have surfaced online, some of which involve firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. The temple task force asserted that he was hit by a reversing fire engine, but the authorities stood by their claim that he had been attacked by rioters.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday said that lawyers of developer One City Development, who owns the land the temple sits on and wants it back, had paid 50 Malay men RM150,000 (US$35,700) to "take care of things" at the temple. Both One City and its lawyers have denied the charge.
Dr Mahathir said: "I ask all quarters, whether in this House or in public, to exercise caution when issuing statements or sharing news on the incident because too much of fake and incorrect news has already been circulated.
"To politicians as well as non-governmental organisations and others, do not try to make the situation more murky."
Dr Mahathir also said that the police have been given the responsibility to maintain peace and conduct investigations. He added that offenders will face "appropriate legal action".
Thirty people have been arrested over the riots, which were sparked by a disagreement between two groups regarding the relocation of the temple.
To prevent such problems in the future, Dr Mahathir told reporters on Wednesday that the government would pass a new resolution to make it compulsory for a permit to be obtained before a house of worship is built.
"That (requirement) will solve the problem," Dr Mahathir said. "The problem now is because temples are built without any regard as to who owns the land, and later when the owner wants back the land, it will become a problem."
SELANGOR TO ACQUIRE TEMPLE LAND?
It was reported on Wednesday that the Selangor government might want to acquire the land and hand it over to the temple, but Mahathir said: "We are still bound by the decision of the court. If the state government wants to do it, it has to take action to do it if it can ... take back the land."
Dr Mahathir added that the government will take action according to the law if the developer has committed any offence in the matter.
"If there is any law that is broken, the law will apply," he said.