On 25 September preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin was committed to prison to serve a nine-month jail term after his appeal against conviction for sedition was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
It is appalling and unacceptable that Wan Ji has now fallen victim to the repressive Sedition Act 1948, an act notorious for its infringement of freedom of speech. Adding salt to the wound is that his imprisonment is under a Pakatan Harapan-led government, which had previously championed the abolition of the Sedition Act.
There is no basis or reasonable grounds to defend the indefensible Sedition Act. It is a reprehensible relic of our British colonial past which should have long been repealed, and its continued use is a blight on our criminal justice system and our nation. Used by the British to oppress patriotic freedom fighters throughout the then British Empire, the definition of the offence is so widely couched that any statement by a citizen could be deemed seditious by the authorities and prosecution instituted.
It has a chilling effect on free speech and militates against our sense of justice. It is a moral imperative and duty of PH, which promised repeal, to ensure that Wan Ji does not continue to endure imprisonment under this draconian law.
As such, the Selangor government, which is led by PH and has a menteri besar from PKR, must do the right thing and advise the ruler to pardon Wan Ji under Article 42 of the Federal Constitution. Under Article 42(4)(b), the ruler exercises the power of pardon on the advice of the Selangor Pardons Board. And by virtue of Article 42(5), the Selangor menteri besar is a member of the Pardons Board.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim also cannot remain indifferent and silent. When in opposition, Anwar had spoken up specifically in Wan Ji’s case. In 2019 Anwar issued a statement protesting against Wan Ji’s conviction for sedition by the High Court. He called the sentence “harsh” and “not consistent with the democratic transition”.
Now Anwar as Prime Minister is in a position to redress the injustice done to Wan Ji. The attorney general, in his capacity as the federal government and prime minister’s chief legal adviser, also sits as a member of the Selangor Pardons Board under Article 42(5) and must advise grant of pardon in Wan Ji’s case.
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Irrespective of the words uttered in the facts of this case, Wan Ji must not be abandoned to languish in jail under the inhumane Sedition Act. That would be a black mark upon the nation and our justice system. Meanwhile, the PH-led government must move to table in Parliament the repeal of the Sedition Act and consign it to the trash heap of history. – LFL
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty