Lawyers for Liberty refers to the charge under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act 1948 brought against caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor at the Selayang Sessions Court.
This is a black day for the country. The notorious Sedition Act has reared its ugly head again, now used against a key political rival of the government now holding federal power.
It is appalling that this has happened under a government led by Pakatan Harapan, which in opposition long condemned the existence and use of the Sedition Act as oppressive and an affront to freedom of speech. PH and its leader Anwar Ibrahim’s condemnation of this law seems reserved only to when they were once at the receiving end of it. Now, they have no qualms using it when they are the ones in power.
Sanusi’s alleged offending speech regarding the decision to elect Amiruddin Shari as the Selangor Menteri Besar is in no way seditious or criminal. It is a logical corollary that when one questions the election of a menteri besar that it may directly or indirectly touch upon the respective sultan’s decision in doing so.
By charging Sanusi for his speech, the government is effectively barring legitimate political discourse and transgressing freedom of speech that is protected under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. Prime Minister Anwar himself should know this after suffering similar allegations of disrespecting the royal institution in the past, including for urging the Agong to revoke the emergency declaration in 2021.
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The law of sedition is an archaic legal concept, a remnant of a notorious colonial law that most Commonwealth countries have already scrapped. Its broadly worded provisions render the rights to free speech illusory.
The PM, other Pakatan Harapan ministers and MPs know this full well, which is why it has always been part of their campaign promise to repeal this law.
It is as invalid to use it against PH and political detractors previously, as it is to be used against Perikatan Nasional and its supporters now. That does not change just because PH is in power. No legitimate government can be allowed to wield the powers conferred by these laws.
Therefore, we urge the government to immediately suspend the operation of the Sedition Act pending repeal at the next session of Parliament. We further urge the attorney general to withdraw the sedition charge against Sanusi.
The Sedition Act should no longer be part of our criminal justice system; it should be consigned to the trash heap of our colonial past.
Zaid Malek is a director of Lawyers for Liberty