GENEVA — UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today urged the government of Malaysia to withdraw its proposed amendments to the 1948 Sedition Act.
He warned that the new provisions would seriously undermine the freedom of expression and opinion in the country and would be in breach of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution and its international human rights obligations.
Zeid also expressed concern at the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday this week. Among the serious human rights shortcomings in the law are provisions that allow the indefinite detention of individuals without trial and the granting of sweeping powers to law enforcement authorities without sufficient safeguards to prevent abuses and ensure accountability for violations of human rights.
“The UN Human Rights Office has long urged Malaysia to either repeal the 1948 Sedition Act or to bring it in line with international human rights standards. The government had committed to repealing the Act during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in 2013,” the High Commissioner said.
“It is very disappointing that the Malaysian government is now proposing to make a bad law worse.”
The proposal to amend the overly broad Sedition Act, tabled on Tuesday, further broadens the scope of the offences and introduces harsher penalties, including up to 20 years’ imprisonment for “aggravated” sedition. New provisions for travel bans are also worrying as they may allow for arbitrary restrictions against individuals on the basis of an ill-defined law.
“These proposals are particularly worrying given that the Sedition Act has been applied in many instances to curb the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression in Malaysia – including through the arrests of individuals for merely tweeting their criticism of government policies and judicial decisions,” the High Commissioner said.
Since the beginning of 2014, at least 78 people have been investigated or charged under the Sedition Act and in 2015 alone, so far, at least 36 individuals have already been investigated or charged.
High Commissioner Zeid urged the government to review the cases of all those who have been charged under the Sedition Act.
“Silencing dissent does not nurture social stability, but an open democratic space does,” the High Commissioner said. “Curtailing the legitimate exercise of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism has been shown, time and again, to backfire and to only lead to festering discontent and a strong sense of injustice.”
The High Commissioner urged Malaysia, as chair of Asean, to ensure that its leadership role at the regional and international levels is backed up by a firm commitment to ensure the human rights of all in Malaysia.