Don’t deceive people into thinking Sedition Act is needed to deal with ‘three Rs’

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Lawyers for Liberty refers to Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s announcement that the cabinet had given the green light to initiate the process to amend the Sedition Act 1948, purportedly to curtail provocations on the so-called “three R issues” [involving race, religion and royalty].

For this government, it seems that the three Rs have become an excuse for every infringement of civil liberties. Every broken promise of reform is justified on the grounds of the three Rs. This excuse is a deception of the people.

The Sedition Act is an antiquated and draconian colonial legislation that has long threatened personal and political freedom in this country. It blatantly breaches the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

It has a long history of being used against the political opposition, activists and opponents of the government of the day. This is made possible because the act is so vaguely and widely constructed that it could result in any comment, even legitimate expressions of dissent against the government, being regarded as “sedition”.

This dangerous law has no place in a modern democracy and most commonwealth countries have already repealed this colonial legacy of the British Empire.

The Pakatan Harapan-led government must not use the royal institution as an excuse to justify the continued existence of the Sedition Act. Protecting the Malay rulers is not a legitimate reason to maintain the Sedition Act as any government – either the current PH-led one or subsequent governments – can still extend the use of the Sedition Act to any government critic.

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Many facets of government administration have some manner of royal involvement, such as amendments of certain articles of the Federal Constitution or certain appointments. The involvement of the rulers in any decision, no matter how slight, could result in any comments or criticism of government action being considered “seditious”.

The same is also true for issues relating to race and religion, which undoubtedly plays a large role in Malaysia’s political discourse.

There is just no way to salvage the Sedition Act; the risk of it being used against the people is far too great.

It is an appalling betrayal for a PH-led government to now refuse to repeal the Sedition Act now that that it is in power when it has for so long promised to do so while they were in opposition.

Their previous position on the Sedition Act contained no reservations about protecting the royals, race or religion, and there is no reason for that stance to change now that they are in power. To change that stance now is just hypocrisy and cynical opportunism.

PH must remember that they were elected on a platform of reform, which included the promise to repeal the Sedition Act.

Keep the promise, repeal the Sedition Act 1948.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

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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