The Malaysian government has backtracked on its promises to abolish the politicised sedition law, says Human Rights Watch.
Malaysian authorities should drop politically motivated sedition charges against a senior opposition politician for a satirical video criticising the government, Human Rights Watch said on 9 June.
Teresa Kok, a member of parliament and national vice-chair of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), will attend a court hearing on that day on charges that could result in up to three years in prison or a fine that would disqualify her from serving in the national parliament.
The Chinese New Year video ‘Onederful Malaysia CNY 2014’ presents Kok as host of the programme with three volunteers playing characters before a small audience. The video makes no mention of any individual or the government.
“The Malaysian authorities are setting a new low for violating free expression by bringing criminal charges against an opposition politician in a satirical video,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is obviously not serious about its commitment to revoke the antiquated and abusive Sedition Act.”
The Sedition Act 1948 permits restrictions on freedom of expression beyond those allowed by international human rights law and should be repealed, Human Rights Watch said. The act includes vague offences such as uttering “any seditious words” without defining what constitutes “sedition” or “seditious words.” It broadly outlaws any “seditious tendency” that would “bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government”.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has repeatedly called for a repeal of the act. On 11 July 2012, he said that the “Sedition Act represents a bygone era in our country.” In his 3 April 2013 statement announcing his plans to seek re-election, Najib repeated his pledge, saying he “look[ed] forward to repealing the Sedition Act and replacing it with legislation more suited to our times”.
The law has been used for political reasons in other cases, such as against the late DAP lawyer and politician Karpal Singh, who was charged with sedition earlier in 2014.
“The case against Teresa Kok is just the latest instance of a senior opposition politician being hauled up on arbitrary charges for simply being an opposition politician,” Robertson said. “Prosecutors should save the government international embarrassment by dropping this case immediately.”