The Sedition Act is an outdated and repressive law that may be used by the Najib’s government to target anyone who speaks out against those in power, says Amnesty International.
The Malaysian authorities’ sedition investigation into opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is blatantly politically motivated and the latest move in a widespread crackdown on dissent using the colonial-era Sedition Act, Amnesty International has said.
Police in Malaysia announced that they are re-opening a sedition investigation relating to a speech given by Anwar Ibrahim, criticising the government, made during a political rally in March 2011. He was due to be questioned by police on Friday, 26 September 2014 and was, according to one of his lawyers, likely to be charged under the Sedition Act.
“This case is clearly political and smacks of persecution – the investigation should be dropped immediately. Anwar Ibrahim has been a favourite target of the authorities for more than a decade, and this appears to be the latest attempt to silence and harass a critical voice,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
Over the past months, Malaysian authorities have intensified their use of the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law that criminalises criticism of the government, to target peaceful dissidents.
Two student activists have been sentenced under the Sedition Act in recent weeks. On 19 September, Adam Adli was sentenced to one year in prison, while Safwan Anang was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment on 5 September. In February, prominent human rights lawyer Karpal Singh was also found guilty of sedition. He passed away in a road traffic accident pending an appeal against his conviction.
At least 15 individuals – including activists, opposition politicians, journalists, students and academics – are currently facing charges under the Sedition Act and could face fines or imprisonment. Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyer, Padang Serai MP N Surendran, is among those facing charges.
“The Sedition Act is an outdated and repressive piece of legislation that the authorities are using to target anyone who speaks out against those in power. It must be repealed immediately,” said Rupert Abbott.
“There has been a disturbing increase in the use of the Sedition Act over the past few months against individuals who have done nothing but peacefully express their opinions. This crackdown is creating a climate of fear in Malaysia and must end.”
In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak publically committed to repealing the draconian law stating that it represented “a bygone era”, but two years later his promise remains unfulfilled.
Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about the 1948 Sedition Act. The law criminalises a wide array of acts, including those “with a tendency to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government” or to “question any matter” protected by Malaysia’s Constitution. Those found guilty can face three years in jail, be fined up to RM5,000 (approximately US$1,570) or both. It does not comply with international human rights law, and violates the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and also guaranteed in Article 10 of the Constitution.