LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 10am

Do We Still Need A Sedition Act In Malaysia?

Pic: MalaysiaKiniPic: MalaysiaKiniThe Sedition Act 1948 is a set of laws in Malaysia that is enacted to govern and monitor public discourse in order to prevent any public actions that can be interpreted as 'seditious'.

In 1948, the Sedition Act was adopted by the British rulers from existing 19th century legislation from colonial India into Malaysia and since its enactment in 1948; it has continued to exist in its original form until today.

According to existing interpretation of this Act, any act, speech or words that have 'seditous tendency' can be prosecuted as a criminal offence.

The question then arises whether there is a place for a pre-colonial law in Malaysia in the 21st century. If we take a look around the world, many governments around the world still have laws governing freedom of speech although many have chosen not to enforce it anymore.

As for our neighbours in Asia, ruling governments in China, Thailand and Singapore are known to still enforce laws relating to freedom of speech.

A Comparison To Sedition Laws Enforcement In Singapore

According to Article 14 of the Constitution of Singapore, the freedom of speech, expression and assembly is guaranteed BUT there is restriction to these rights. Article 14 sets limitations on these rights for citizens of Singapore in the interest of public security and the rule of law.

As reported by Agenda Daily recently, former Chief Justice of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Hamid  Mohamad stated that Malaysia can learn from the example set by Singapore in relation to the use of sedition laws.

"Singapore has kept the Sedition Act in their Constitution and they have shown that they will not hesitate to use it to take action against anyone who has committed a criminal offence by sedition," he said.

He further added that according to his observation, all known recent cases of enforcement under the Sedition Act in Singapore had to do with action taken against non-Muslim individuals for seditious comments made against the Muslim minority in Singapore.

The Role Of The Sedition Act in Malaysia

Is the Sedition Act still relevant in the 1Malaysia era today?

According to a report by Berita Harian recently, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak explained that the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) does not have the final say on the transition of the Sedition Act to the proposed National Harmony Bill but it is the role of the Cabinet to make the final decision.An Act for the punishment of sedition.An Act for the punishment of sedition.

In an earlier report in Berita Harian two years ago, the Prime Minister had announced that the proposed National Harmony Bill emphasized the promotion of national harmony and reconciliation in Malaysian society.

"The proposed enactments under the National Harmony Bill will be more specific in nature and will allow the government to take action against any party or individual who intent to incite hatred through sensitive issues that will threaten the unity of our nation." he said.

Although the government had publicly stated its intention to replace the Sedition Act with the proposed National Harmony Bill in the near future, the Sedition Act still remains in force today.

It is clear from the events of recent weeks that the authorities still feel that the Sedition Act has its uses and is still relevant to be enforced on Malaysians today.

However, there are also many Malaysians do not agree with the continued enforcement of the Sedition Act  and have started campaigns and public opinion polls through social media and public forums.

Amongst them is The Malaysian Bar, who has taken to organizing a campaign aimed at lobbying for the repeal of the Sedition Act.

Last Thursday, on 4th September 2014, the National Young Lawyers Committee under The Malaysian Bar officially launched #MansuhAktaHasutan campaign at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium.

Similarly, the 'Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) comprising of over 112 NGOs will officially launch a nationwide campaign on 15 September 2014 with the long term aim to lobby against the  Sedition Act and work towards its abolition.

GHAH will  focus on three aims, that are, to abolish the Sedition Act, get all existing charges under the Sedition Act to be dropped and to ensure that there are no similar laws drafted to replace the Sedition Act.

The 'Death' Of Democracy

Pic: MalaysianRiviewPic: MalaysianRiviewAccording to a report by an online news portal, a group of undergraduates belonging to the movement GAMIS (Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Semalaysia) delivered a memorandum to the Home Ministry regarding the repeal of the Sedition Act.

They also brought along a replica of an embalmed corpse as a 'symbolic' representation of what they perceived as the 'death' of democracy that is represented by the continued enforcement of the Sedition Act.

When interviewed by Malaysian Digest, one of the members, Ridzuan Asit, who is also an avid user of social media and Facebook express his dissatisfaction with the Sedition Act.

"The Sedition Act 1948 should be abolished as the government is perceived as using the Act to punish anyone who speaks out against UMNO whereas others who demean Islam and other communities who do not side with UMNO are not prosecuted under the Act and are free to hit out against the opposition and the Pakatan Rakyat, so I feel the Act is unjust to Malaysians and should be abolished." he stated.

A chronology of recent arrests under the Sedition Act 1948

Many Malaysians have been charged under the Sedition Act over the years but the current public controversy started with a student in Penang who 'liked' the 'I Love Israel' page on his facebook page which resulted in his investigation under the Sedition Act.

According to a report in The Malaysian Insider on 14 August this year, the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Dato' Sri Ahmad Shabery Cheek criticized the authorities action against the student.

"It was unnecessary for the authorities to act with such haste and force over this issue where the student's intent could have been misinterpreted" he said.

This incident was followed by the high profile case of Prof. Madya Dr. Azmi Sharom, a UM law lecturer and columnist, who was charged under the Sedition Act for comments he made about the Perak constitutional crisis in relation to the current Selangor MB crisis in an online portal article.Prof. Madya Dr. Azmi SharomProf. Madya Dr. Azmi Sharom

Azmi has since pleaded not guilty to the charge and the case has proceeded to the court.

Soon after, MalaysiaKini online news portal reporter Susan Loone was also charged under the Sedition Act.

She was charged in relation to her report in the online news portal relating to the PPS (Pasukan Peronda Sukarelawan) arrests in Penang last week.

Susan was interrogated by the Penang police before she was released on bail although it is unclear how she was perceived to have committed an offence under the Sedition Act.

Following this, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president, Chin Sung Chew had condemned the arrest and demanded that the police should issue an apology to her and her family.

“Even though the police have the right to question anyone through complaints made by certain NGOs, we however strongly feel that the Sedition Act had been wrongly applied in Loone’s case and that the police should issue an apology to her for the trauma and inconveniences caused to her and her family," he had said in a public statement.

So, Do We Really Need The Sedition Act?

According to UMNO's official online portal, the prime minister is quoted as urging the public to not doubt the intentions of the National Harmony Bill which aims to be more relevant than the existing Sedition Act.

In view of this statement, all Malaysian citizens can feel confident in the prime minister's view that the Sedition Act is lacking in relevance to our society today.

The Attorney-General Chambers of Malaysia is the lead agency tasked with assessing the legal framework of the National Harmony Bill.

The basic aims of the proposed National Harmony Bill is to allow room for the public to voice their opinions and give constructive criticism but to do so within a legal framework that sets conditions to prevent hate crimes.

With the government's assurance to ensure that the proposed new bill will balance the need to guarantee the freedom of expression and at the same time have proper provisions for legal action against those who use sensitive issues to undermine national solidarity, Malaysians should not doubt harbour doubts about the implementation of the National Harmony Bill.

As Malaysian citizens, shouldn’t we support any effort that moves us closer toward national unity as we strive towards the aspirations of 1Malaysia?

Will Najib really walk the talk on the National Harmony Bill or is it all just a political ploy to win votes?

Going forward, all of us need to look within ourselves for the answer.


- mD