Charging our fellow Malaysians under the Sedition Act will only make political martyrs out of them and fuel the fire of reforms for generations to come, writes Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
The ruling party in Malaysia continuously mocks democracy at every opportunity.
The recent wave of sedition charges handed down to Azmi Sharom, N Surendran, Khalid Samad, R S N Rayer, Teresa Kok and countless more is nothing more than a brazen show of arrogance and power exhibited by a regime that has been in power too long.
Our government continuously fails to recognise freedom of speech and is adamant in denying our basic rights as human beings. In a country where some of our leaders come across as moderates and progressive champions of human rights, this façade only exists to appease international critics and to earn brownie points from potential foreign investors. As Malaysians, we are aware of the jarring realities and the trouble you will get into if you dare to speak your mind.
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For decades, the ruling regime has been imposing a rather ruthless brand of political censorship upon its people – the Sedition Act, a law that forbids anything considered seditious or could bring about any acts of rebellion. By definition, any material considered “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government” will be subjected to this law.
Simply put, the law exists to ensure that certain issues (or politicians in the ruling regime) are never questioned or criticised, though such things may be done discreetly but at your own risk. Today, this mostly refers to bumiputera rights or ketuanan Melayu.
The law was introduced in 1948 by the British colonialists, who sought to prevent any rebellious uprising that may result from opposing colonial rule. Fast forward several decades later, the same laws are still being applied today with intentions that are obviously malicious in nature – the only difference is that this time, those targeted are none other than fellow Malaysians who dare present (be it in written form or verbally) the truth about our beloved country.
History teaches how our Parliament passed a bill that allowed restrictions on freedom of speech after the May 13 incident, which was undeniably one of the worst riots our country has ever seen. Malaysians do not want to see a repeat of this at all.
What is clear now, however, is that all these ‘preventive laws’ have been abused time and time again for political reasons. For the longest time, the Sedition Act and Internal Security Act (ISA) went hand in hand like two peas in a pod, a harsh kind of law and order or a twisted ‘Harry and Maude’.
Most Malaysians remember 1987 as the year the ruling regime executed Ops Lalang, when over a hundred opposition leaders and critics were incarcerated. Lately, one cannot help but feel an awkward sense of déjà vu – are we witnessing a repeat of such an atrocity?
Today, the ISA has been dismantled – though its spirit lives on through the newly enacted Prevention of Crimes Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act. And despite much lip service being made by the Prime Minister about abolishing the Sedition Act, it is not only in place but continually used!
The latest witch-hunt instigated by the ruling regime is a blatant show of authority that is aimed at creating fear and at casting a shadow of doubt in us all. It may work for some but for the rest of us, it serves as a reminder that we must stay strong and insist that changes be made, in a way that is beneficial for all Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity or economic status.
Malaysians are no longer afraid to speak out against tyranny. This is largely attributable to the advent of social media, which has given new voice to the disenchanted and disenfranchised. With Facebook, our voices can be heard by anyone, anywhere. Of course, the authorities, now aware of this, have attempted to crack down on social media as well. More and more people have been arrested over comments made on Twitter and Facebook.
Although the situation appears to be getting uglier, we must remind ourselves to never lose sight of the bigger picture. Stifling the voices of dissent or silencing critics through brazen abuse of power will only backfire in the end, and one can’t help but wonder about the ironic outcome of this fiasco. Charging our fellow Malaysians under the Sedition Act will only make political martyrs out of them and fuel the fire of reforms, for generations to come.