Finally, A Minister Disagrees With Sedition Charge On University Malaya Professor

Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala criticised today the use of the controversial Sedition Act 1948 on Azmi Sharom, nearly a fortnight after the University of Malaya (UM) law lecturer was charged.

The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of government efficiency broke away from the Barisan Nasional (BN) government that has so far defended the use of the colonial-era law on dissidents, saying on Twitter that academic freedom is vital to the pursuit of knowledge.

“Azmi Sharom should not be charged for sedition. Academic freedom is required in pursuit of knowledge,” the Sarawakian posted on his official Twitter account, @IdrisJala_. The minister who is not a member of any political party pleaded for the government to allow constructive criticism and dissent, although he added a caveat:

“So long as it does not create serious fault-line in the social fabric of our society”.

“Malaysia must continue to pursue the path of moderation,” he said.

Azmi was charged with sedition September 2, ostensibly for his legal opinion on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis made to the Malay Mail Online earlier this year.

Putrajaya recently embarked on a sedition crackdown, hauling up at least 15 anti-government dissidents and opposition politicians under the colonial-era law in the space of one month. The sudden onslaught of sedition action has also led to renewed calls for the repeal of the colonial-era law, with politicians and activist groups taking up arms to mobilise nationwide campaigns in hopes of pressuring Putrajaya into fulfilling its 2012 pledge to do away with the law.

But critics believe the government is deliberately dithering on the promise due to pressure from strong right wing elements within Umno and its supporters, who want the Act to stay. Defenders of the Sedition Act, primarily pro-establishment conservatives including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, contend that its removal will open the floodgates of attacks against the Bumiputera, Islam, and the Malay rulers in the absence of the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA).

Those pushing for the law to be eliminated, however, insist that its ambit is too broad, as it criminalises speech with an undefined “seditious tendency” and without need to prove intent.

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