Lawyers for Liberty refers to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s defence of the use of Sedition Act against caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor as necessary as it relates “to the position, dignity of the rulers”.
This appears to be a deliberately false and misleading statement on what is contained in the charges against Sanusi.
Scrutiny of the second charge reveals that it does not relate to any criticism of a ruler or the Agong; it is in fact criticism of Prime Minister Anwar in relation to the formation of the “unity government”, questioning the claims he had made at the time. Therefore Anwar’s claim that the Sedition Act was used only because it involves the “position, dignity of the rulers” is false.
The second charge was related to criticism and mockery of Anwar himself. In short, in the second charge the Sedition Act was used on Sanusi, a vocal political rival, for nothing more than criticising the prime minister. This is abuse of power and oppression, plain and simple.
The colonial-era Sedition Act 1948 unequivocally violates freedom of speech. The overly wide terms used in the act provides any government of the day with excessive powers to decide what constitutes sedition, which ultimately severely curtails free speech and political freedoms in Malaysia. It has for long been used for exactly that, which is why many, including Anwar himself and those in Pakatan Harapan have called for its repeal.
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Anwar is now defending this law by suddenly altering his position on the use of the Sedition Act by claiming it is acceptable to use it purportedly to safeguard the royal institution. The call for its repeal by Anwar and PH when in opposition never had any such qualifications, and it is deceptive and dishonest to suggest that a distinction should now be made.
It is a constitutional fact that our royal institution plays a part in certain key aspects of governance, such as in the election of a menteri besar and the prime minister, and any questions or criticism that arises on this issue would naturally directly and indirectly touch on their role in such decisions.
It is a slippery slope to allow the Sedition Act to be used under the guise of protecting the sanctity of the royal institution as the government can extend this same type of argument to other matters, including race or religion. This new, sly, convoluted Anwar-style qualification will only lead to untrammelled use of the Sedition Act.
The Sedition Act 1948 is an unjust law in principle and must be repealed. No unjust laws can be made fair, no matter which party is in government, regardless of the reasons.
Thus, we reiterate that the government must institute a moratorium on the usage of the Sedition Act and repeal it outright in the next parliamentary session.
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty