ICJ calls for immediate release of Nurul Izzah, detained under Sedition Act

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Photograph: Wikipedia

The International Commission of Jurists has slammed the arrest and detention of MP Nurul Izzah.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on 16 March condemned the arrest and detention of Malaysian Member of Parliament and daughter of imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Nurul Izzah Anwar, under section 4(1) of the colonial-era 1948 Sedition Act.

The arrest, which took place around 3.30pm at Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur, appears to be linked to a speech she gave in Parliament on 10 March 2015 that reportedly criticised the judges in her father’s sodomy II case.

It was reported that Nurul Izzah was at the police station today to provide statements for her involvement in a demonstration on 14 February, as well as her parliamentary speech.

She managed to complete part of her statement, but was arrested before she could provide a statement on the alleged seditious speech.

Nurul Izzah has yet to be formally charged and it is unclear as to whether the detention is in relation to a specific section of her speech or to the entire speech.

“The Malaysian authorities must stop the continued use of the offence of sedition to arbitrarily detain and stifle freedom of expression,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

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On 10 February 2015, the Federal Court of Malaysia upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to convict and sentence Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy under section 377B of the Penal Code.

Since then, a cartoonist has been charged under the Sedition Act, while several opposition politicians and lawmakers have been investigated for allegedly making seditious comments on the Federal Court’s decision.

The ICJ has previously denounced the use of the Sedition Act and repeatedly called for the abolition of the Act as its vague and overbroad provisions are incompatible with international human rights standards.

Nurul Izzah will reportedly remain in prison for the night and will have her remand hearing first thing in the morning on 17 March 2015. (She was instead released on police bail on 17 March.)

The ICJ will continue to monitor her case.

The ICJ also calls on the Government of Malaysia to immediately release Nurul Izzah and reiterates its call for the repeal of the Sedition Act.

Background

The 1948 Sedition Act, originally enacted by the British colonial government and amended several times over the years, criminalises speech and publications considered to have “seditious tendencies”.

The term “seditious tendencies” is ambiguously defined to mean any kind of speech or publication that causes “hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection” against any ruler or the government or promotes “ill will and hostility between the different races or classes”.

The law also considers “seditious” any speech or publication that questions the special privileges of the Malay people, as provided in the Constitution.

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Furthermore, sedition is a strict liability offence in Malaysia, which means that the intention of a person allegedly making seditious statements is irrelevant. For instance, a person making a statement may not have the intent to cause “hatred or contempt” towards the government, but may nonetheless be held liable for sedition if authorities believe that the person in fact incited such feelings.

The ICJ considers that the Act, by its very terms, contemplates restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are grossly overbroad and inconsistent with basic rule of law and human rights principles.

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