Home Civil Society Voices Government faces criticism for unfulfilled promises to repeal sedition and communications laws

Government faces criticism for unfulfilled promises to repeal sedition and communications laws

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is appalled that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Harapan-led coalition government has taken the position of not repealing the draconian Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and plans to strengthen the enforcement of these laws.

On 7 November National Unity Minister Aaron Ago Dagang was reported also as saying that the government believes the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act are sufficient to deal with issues related to race, religion and royalty (the three Rs), and that it is not necessary to enact or introduce a new law.

What happened to the July position of limiting usage to protect the royal institution?

Is this yet another backtracking of the assurance given by Anwar and the cabinet in July 2023 – that the continued usage of these laws will be confined to matters concerning the royal institution.

Of course, no one will forget PH’s promise before elections to repeal the Sedition Act and other draconian provisions and laws – all of which are now janji tidak ditepati (promises not kept)?

Promise to limit usage a lie?

In July the Malaysian cabinet and Prime Minister Anwar indicated that the Sedition Act will only be applied to provocations towards the royal institution. Anwar said, “Yes. From a policy perspective, we avoid using the Sedition Act, except when this touches on the position of the Rulers.”

It was again all talk and till today there has been no concrete action. A good government will act speedily – and not simply make ‘promises’.

Till today, there is still no moratorium on the usage of this draconian act that would have made it clear that it cannot anymore be used for any other reason but for seditious tendencies under “Section 3(1)(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler…”, whereby ruler, as defined by the act, means the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the ruler or yang di- pertua negeri of any state in Malaysia.

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And, on 16 October, it was reported that Kean Wong, the editor of the controversial book titled Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope in New Malaysia was arrested and investigated for sedition by the police.

Earlier, on 4 September it was reported that Pas president Hadi Awang was being investigated for sedition over comments he made about the authority of the pardons board, according to Bukit Aman.

On 7 November police submitted to the prosecution investigation papers on statements Kedah Chief Minister Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor and state assembly member Shahril Azman had allegedly made before the recent Pelangai state by-election in Bentong that were offences, among others, under the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Things have changed now in November, because now the national unity minister is not talking about limiting or confining usage to matters relating to the royal institution.

The Sedition Act and the draconian Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act continue to be abused, deterring freedom of expression and opinion and undermining democracy.

Does Anwar and the PH-led coalition government want to silence the people, allowing only praises but no criticism of the government?

Why Sedition Act needs to be repealed?

It criminalises actions or words that cause seditious tendencies, which may “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the ruler, government, administration of justice or generally “raise discontent or disaffection”. Truth, valid opinion or suspicion is no defence, as the crime is about ‘tendencies’ only.

It is not at all suitable for a democratic nation like Malaysia, where freedom of speech, expression and opinion is an essential key element. The highlighting of wrongs, the violation of rights or abuses of power committed by anyone is important, but then all these can be [deemed] an offence under the Sedition Act – thus making it a draconian law that should have been repealed long ago.

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It is a law that protects the government of the day, and is easily abused against opposition politicians and human rights defenders. Even whistleblowers who highlight alleged wrongs can be made victims, even when what is raised is the truth or a valid opinion.

When people raised the 1MDB and related corruption cases, the Sedition Act could have been used as [their allegations may have caused] seditious tendencies, in that it “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against’ the government, the prime minister and others in government, all of whom were appointed by the King.

Now, these [allegations] have been proven true – but [their statements would  still] be a crime under the Sedition Act.

For crimes against other races or religions, we do not need the Sedition Act, as these are already laws that deal with them, like 298A of the Penal Code (“Causing, etc., disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will, or prejudicing, etc., the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion”).

If needed, other crimes with specific wrongdoings stated can be incorporated into the Penal Code or other laws. The Sedition Act 1948, a law from Malaysia’s British colonial times, must be repealed.

Why Section 233 must be repealed

If Anwar or Lim Kit Siang says something “false, menacing or offensive” that annoys me, it should not be a crime. But Section 233 makes it so. That is why Section 233 makes any communication over the internet – “any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person” – an offence.

READ MORE:  Sedition Act not the solution to 'three Rs' problem

“…it is just too broad and vague, and is open to abuse. For example, the highlighting of violation of human rights or laws, or facts connected to alleged violations of rights/laws, would likely ‘annoy’ or even ‘harass’ the wrongdoer, and for the alleged wrongdoer, it could also be said to be ‘menacing and offensive’. This should never be considered an offence… As such, this section deters even the highlighting of human rights abuses, breaches of law and even possible government wrongdoing. This section even deters the sharing of such relevant and important facts, and/or opinions over the internet…” – Malaysian Bar Resolution

It is sad that even after the PH-led coalition came into power, many in Malaysia feel that nothing has changed. Not only are the draconian laws retained and used, but now they are also being justified. Reasons like the police need it to fight crime are excuses that no good prime minister and government would use to preserve and enhance the powers of unjust laws.

Madpet calls on Prime Minister Anwar and the PH-led coalition to be committed to justice and to immediately repeal the Sedition Act, the draconian Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act and all other draconian legislation.

Madpet calls for respect for true democracy, including the freedom of speech, expression and opinion, the freedom of the press and human rights.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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