The undersigned civil society organisations are alarmed at the continued use of the Sedition Act 1948 under the Pakatan Harapan government.
The late night arrest of Khalid Ismath under the Sedition Act in relation to remarks attributed to him regarding the Raja Permaisuri Agong was yet another reminder of the government’s unfulfilled promise to repeal this draconian colonial-era law. It also demonstrates the lack of clarity our authorities have about what are legitimate restrictions on the freedom of expression.
Our authorities often remind us that freedom of expression is not absolute but do not demonstrate a corresponding understanding of when it may be legitimately restricted. Under our Federal Constitution, any restrictions must be made by Parliament and necessary to protect national security, public order and public morality. These restrictions cannot be arbitrary but must be necessary and proportionate to its aims.
Arresting or imprisoning someone under a draconian law when there is no threat of violence or harm is an assault on our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. While insulting one another, especially on the basis of race and religion, is abhorrent and distasteful, the state and the law should not get involved unless those insults involve threats of violence or harm.
It is in this light that we are also concerned at the long jail term of six years and fine of RM50,000 imposed on Alister Cogia for Facebook posts that were deemed insulting of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
We understand that the government is desirous of promoting good relations among all citizens, especially with regard to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of our country. We would like to stress that there are better ways to achieve this rather than arresting and imprisoning those among us who make insulting comments about each other.
Our government must demonstrate leadership by unequivocally embracing the concept of equality and respect for the human rights of all. It must ensure policies that make children of all backgrounds feel welcome in our schools, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. The government must also promote media literacy and education to foster a more positive environment for discussion.
It is also pertinent to note that while perceived insults against royalty or religion often provoke a strong response from the authorities, real threats of violence against vulnerable groups such as women and transgender persons hardly garner the same level of attention and headlines.
We, therefore, call on the government to fulfil its manifesto promise to repeal the Sedition Act and other legislation that can be abused to fetter freedom of expression such as sections 233 and 211 of the Communications and Multimedia Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.
We also call on the government to demonstrate respect for freedom of expression and to educate the public accordingly on this important fundamental freedom.
- The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
- Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Space
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)