Malaysian Bar: Sedition Act Panders To Extremists

The Sedition Act 1948 was never intended to create national harmony but it encourages extremism instead, Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong said last night.

He said the colonial-era law panders to extremists and perpetuates disunity as it is wielded whenever others claim to be insulted or disrespected.

“The Sedition Act is the antithesis of democracy, rule of law and justice,” he said at the official launch of the #MansuhAktaHasutan campaign by the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC) last night to repeal the Sedition Act.

“The use of the Sedition Act serves to perpetuate immaturity, lack of understanding, confusion and ignorance. It exploits insecurities. It was never designed to achieve national harmony; it was intended to suppress dissent and maintain power,” Leong added.

In a statement last night, the Selangor chapter of Malay rights group Perkasa argued to retain the pre-independence law, saying it was needed to preserve national unity, as a “weapon and shield” against “traitors”. Leong expressed concern with the recent slew of sedition cases, pointing out that the government crackdown contradicted Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 2012 pledge to abolish the Sedition Act.

“It is indeed ironic that as we now celebrate 57 years of ‘Merdeka’, we see the use of the repugnant and draconian Sedition Act to stifle fundamental freedoms and constrict democratic space in an independent Malaysia,” said the lawyer. He stressed that the National Harmony Act, which has been proposed as a replacement of the Sedition Act, should only criminalise threats or incitement of violence on the grounds of race and religion, and that the element of intention must be included.

“The intended National Harmony Act should not seek to criminalise thought, speech and expression,” said Leong.

Former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan urged the 300-strong audience at the forum not to be cowed into silence. “Many call this Operasi Lalang 2. We are no ‘lalang’ (weed). We’re going to stand up today,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

Operasi Lalang was the 1987 government crackdown that saw more than 100 opposition politicians and activists being arrested under the Internal Security Act during the 22-year-long Mahathir administration. Ambiga also criticised the sedition dragnet that has mostly targeted opposition lawmakers from Pakatan Rakyat, calling it an attack on parliamentary democracy.

“Instead of taking on the opposition in Parliament, they choose to decapitate them by using the Sedition Act,” she said.

Global Movement of Moderates chief Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who was invited to speak at the open forum, said the “culture of fear” was growing, amid the sedition crackdown that has claimed not only politicians, but also a law professor and even a teenager.

“What we are seeing today is that the government seems to be cracking down on dissent,” Saifuddin told the forum.

“At the same time, this is also the government that prides itself by calling for more political reform and supposedly appreciating the contestation of ideas,” added the Umno member. S

everal members of the audience asked if the #MansuhAktaHasutan campaign would involve a mass protest, to which NYLC chair Syahredzan Johan said there were no plans to do so as yet.

“But when that day comes and the need for a walk arises, I’m sure we will be walking,” said Syahredzan.

The lawyer said the year-long campaign was focused on raising awareness nationwide, especially in rural areas, on the necessity of repealing the Sedition Act.

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