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Not seditious to ask for abolition of Sedition Act

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The present ruling coalition should have no hesitation in abandoning a law that has gone well past its expiry date, says Gurdial Singh  Nijar.

Lawyer Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman insists that the Sedition Act must not be abolished as it protects the nation’s security against occurrences like the May 13 riots.

Even calls for its abolition are seditious, he says. The Act, he adds, can only be amended with the consent of the Conference of Rulers because it comes within a provision of the Constitution (Article 10.4), which allows Parliament to pass a law that prohibits questioning the status of the national language, the quotas for bumiputras and natives, and the sovereignty and powers of the Rulers.

With respect, Abdul Aziz is wrong on both counts.

First, as rightly pointed out by Lawyers for Liberty advisor N Surendran, the Sedition Act was enacted long before our Parliament came into existence. It is a colonial law used against our freedom fighters.

What the British did was to get the then law-making body called the Federal Legislative Council – all of whose representatives were initially appointed by the British High Commissioner for Malaya – to consolidate the many sedition enactments in the Malay States and the Straits Settlement into one piece of law. Thus was created the Sedition Ordinance 1948.

Not being an act made by our Parliament, it cannot come within Article 10(4). Recently both the Court of Appeal (Mat Shuhaimi bin Shafiei v PP) and the Federal Court (PP v Azmi Sharom) confirmed this. Instead, these courts said the Act comes under Article 162, which provides for laws existing before independence to continue in force.

It is elementary then that as the Act does not fall under Article 10(4), there is no requirement for consent from the Conference of Rulers.

Secondly, what is seditious is specified by the Act. And it does not make it a seditious tendency to call for the repeal of the Act, as asserted by Abdul Aziz. Because, clearly, such a call does not amount to questioning the sovereignty of the rulers or the status of the national language nor the quotas reserved for bumiputeras or natives. Our other existing laws suffice to protect these facets.

Indeed, Section 3(2)(b) expressly permits pointing out defects in any legislation. And that must surely include the Sedition Act as a whole.

It must be stressed that the Sedition Act is an archaic and draconian law which imposes severe reparations against the exercise of free speech. It is harsh and disproportionate through its strict liability provisions and hefty punishment schemes.

Hence, this Act must be suspended in its usage and repealed expeditiously. It has the potential, as seen in the past, of being used as a political tool to silence outspoken critics of governmental wrongdoing.

With the new mantle and ethos of the new government to expose the misdeeds of those in high authority, the present party in power should have no hesitation in abandoning a law that has gone well past its expiry date.

Gurdial Singh Nijar is president of Hakam.

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