Home Civil Society Voices Plan to amend, retain Sedition Act betrays promise of reform

Plan to amend, retain Sedition Act betrays promise of reform

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the 25 July statement made by the minister responsible for law and institutional reforms, Azalina Othman Said that the cabinet has agreed to review the Sedition Act 1948 and that amendments will be made to limit its use to only matters involving the royal institution.

The Sedition Act, enacted during the colonial era, is an antiquated and draconian piece of legislation that poses a devastating threat to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.

The Sedition Act is so vaguely and widely couched that it is near impossible for a member of the public to know which type of comment will be deemed seditious. Thus it will strike fear into the public and retard constructive discourse.

Many Commonwealth countries have repealed this backward colonial-era legislation or put it into disuse due to its history of being an instrument of oppression and its broad and vague provisions that have been used over the years as a tool to curtail legitimate expressions of dissent and suppress freedom of speech.

In short, the sedition law is a diabolical and cruel British colonial law once used to oppress national freedom-fighters, which must be consigned to the rubbish heap of history. That the Pakatan Harapan-led government is now plotting to give this unjust law a new lease of life is simply appalling and unacceptable.

In fact, when in opposition, Anwar Ibrahim and the PH coalition consistently promised Malaysians they would repeal the Sedition Act if they took federal power and incorporated this promise in successive election manifestos. In power now, they are brazenly singing a different tune.

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It is a betrayal of the promise of reform for this government to now back-pedal on their promise to repeal the Sedition Act by purportedly qualifying its use to only matters involving royalty. No such qualifications or conditions were made by Anwar and other PH leaders when they called for the Sedition Act’s repeal. A law that is anathema to fundamental rights, such as the Sedition Act, cannot be amended, but must be extinguished.

It is necessary and timely for this government to shed the remnants of colonial-era legislation and embrace a progressive legal framework that values public discourse and critical discussions, irrespective of the subject matter, to ensure that people can express their opinions freely and responsibly without the fear of persecution or reprisals.

We therefore urge the government to drop the plan to retain the Sedition Act for matters related to the rulers and instead repeal the Sedition Act in its entirety. By doing so, the government will show its commitment and sincerity in upholding freedom of speech in accordance with the Federal Constitution and international human rights standards.

Zaid Malek is a director of Lawyers for Liberty

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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