Bajau Laut evictions: Was the Sedition Act misused?

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When human rights defender Mukmin Nantang, who highlighted the recent Bajau Laut evictions, was arrested and investigated under the Sedition Act, was it about issues touching on the “three Rs” (rulers, race and religion) or some other offence under the Sedition Act?

If anything, it may be a criticism of the state authorities that were responsible for the questionable eviction of hundreds of Bajau Laut people from their homes in the Semporna district in Sabah, where houses were also burned by the authorities.

The government has assured us that the Sedition Act would only be used for issues touching on the three Rs – not for criticism of the government.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said in September 2023: “I do not agree that the Sedition Act should be used against those who criticise the prime minister and the government, but we will not tolerate anyone who tries to incite or slander to the point of touching on the three Rs issues … let the police take action.”

So, did the police act use the Sedition despite the government’s assurance that it would not be used, save for when it concerns the three Rs?

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) had previously called for a moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act pending abolition.

At least, a moratorium on the use of the act, save for issues touching on the three Rs

Clearly, an assurance or vague representations by the prime minister or government are not enough to stop the police from using the Sedition Act, and not just for crimes pertaining to the three Rs.

READ MORE:  Mansuh Akta Hasutan sekarang (Malay/English)

A suspect’s right to know the specific section of the act violated – just saying Sedition Act is wrong

When the police make an arrest, the police are required to inform the suspect clearly what the alleged offence is, including under what section of a particular act [the arrest is made].

The police cannot simply say vaguely that the offence is being investigated under an act like the Penal Code or under the Sedition Act.

Sabah Police Commissioner Jauteh Dikun said Mukmin was investigated under the Sedition Act on issues relating to the demolition of squatter homes.

Media reports perused just say “Sedition Act” without mentioning which section was breached or whether it was sedition against the royalty or concerning race or religion.

Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution states: “Where a person is arrested, he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest…”. This means that he or she has to be informed what law he or she broke – which section and which act.

Just saying [that the arrest was made based] on issues relating to the demolition of squatter homes, is not good enough. A suspect has the right to know what exactly what the offence is for which he or she is being investigated.

The police cannot simply arrest people and only later, after an investigation, decide what the crime is and under which provision of the law it falls.

Saying that the offence is under Section 4(1) not enough

Tell the suspect which seditious tendency under Section 3(1) it is, ie is it about the king/rulers, race or religion?

READ MORE:  Chegubard's arrest for sedition is a blatant abuse of power

For the Sedition Act, which criminalises seditious tendencies, just stating that he is being investigated under even Section 4(1) is insufficient. The police need to go further and say which seditious tendency with reference to Section 3(1) is involved and inform the suspect or witness whether the “seditious tendency” is a tendency:

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any ruler or against any government…

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia or in any state…

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia

Section 4(1) is vague as it simply says:

(1) Any person who-

(a) does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act which has or which would, if done, have a seditious tendency;

(b) utters any seditious words….

This is just too general and leaves the suspect or witness in the dark as to whether it is about any of the issues pertaining to the 3Rs or something else altogether.

What exactly is the “seditious tendency” or “seditious” talk about with regard to the offences under Section 4(1)? Was it about causing disaffection with the king or promotion of ill feelings between the races?

The suspect or witness is entitled to clarity on the offence being investigated.

Thus, the police shall tell the suspect or witness what the sedition offence is, and what exactly the seditious tendency is that he or she is being investigated on, with reference to Section 3(1).

READ MORE:  Who are the Bajau Laut and why destroy their houses?

Madpet reiterates its call for the repeal of the draconian Sedition Act. If there is still a need, enact more new laws to deal with the three Rs, as there already exist laws in the Penal Code and other laws that already deal with the issues pertaining to the three Rs.

Madpet calls on the government to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act pending repeal.

With regard to the alleged injustice that has befallen the Bajau Laut community, who are also ‘bumiputras’ or natives of Sabah, the government must immediately stop the eviction that displaces these people from their homes, sources of income and livelihood.

There should be no eviction until proper investigations [are carried out] to ensure that human rights are respected. It is wrong to evict people without providing them an alternative place to live in, which the affected or displaced community can agree to.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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