While welcoming the government’s intention to repeal the Sedition Act, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia remains optimistically cautious that the government intends to replace the Sedition Act with a new law.
In our multifaceted plural society of diverse ethnic groups and religious composition, the task of maintaining harmony and peaceful coexistence demands constant rigour and commitment.
Malaysian society’s experience and appreciation in protecting social harmony and peaceful coexistence, however, has been based largely on the strength and rigour of political and spiritual institutions maintaining regulations and the enforcement of law and order on its subjects.
This has led to an unhealthy and sometimes overzealous dependence on laws and punishments to detect and deter infringements that are deemed to destabilise the social order.
This has brought unintended consequences of abuse of laws and politically motivated prosecution as well as a weakening of our social institutions that hold society together to a fragile state.
We forgot the best defence for a stable and peaceful society is forged through consensus and the accepted norms of that society. Hurtful and even hateful speeches are best combated with robust criticisms and sanctions emerging from within a free civic-minded public discourse.
Controversial views cannot be made to go away or disappear with suppression. It will instead be driven underground to build up more discontent and bitterness, which in the end will only fuel wider socio-political divides and resentment against institutions and even government.
With this in mind, we in Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), welcome Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement that the government has decided to repeal the Sedition Act 1948.
While welcoming the government’s intention to repeal the Sedition Act, we remain optimistically cautious that the government intends to replace the Sedition Act with a new law. This caution is not unfounded given that the new law could well be a disguise akin to pouring old wine into new wineskins.
In a Malaysia whose democratic traditions and practices are constantly evolving, it is essential for the government to show its commitment to building a mature democracy that values the social space so necessary to enhance consensusbuilding and acceptable societal norms.
Freedom for all people to express their thought, conscience and opinions is vital if Malaysian society is to experience greater social cohesion and harmony with one another.
The government must not act in ways that stifle the practice of free speech and expression no matter how unpalatable the speech may be – provided it does not bring physical harm and the incitement to violence and hatred as prescribed by law and in accordance with international norms and standards.
The unfortunate conviction and sentencing of Ustaz Wan Ji Wan Husin is rather discomforting. His conviction and sentence appears to reinforce the conventional experience in Malaysian society that social harmony is best protected through strict enforcement of the law and the imposition of higher penalties.
But Wan Ji’s conviction and increased penalty has only sparked dissatisfaction and dissension. This is all the more when Wan Ji was convicted under an act of Parliament now confirmed to be repealed soon.
If an act of Parliament deserves to be repealed, common decency should dictate the act should have never been used in the first place. A moratorium on all cases under the Sedition Act should have been granted.
Sadly, in the case of Wan Ji, this did not happen. Justice has clearly not been served, neither has it been seen to be done.
To therefore allow justice to serve its course and correct that which is wrong, GBM would urge the government – in particular, the Attorney General’s Chambers – to move and take all necessary measures so that the High Court decision (where it upheld Wan Ji’s conviction with an increased sentence) can be set aside by a higher court.
We also welcome the stay of execution of the jail sentence which was granted by the High Court on 12 July 2019. The decision is a first towards justice for Wan Ji.
Let Wan Ji be the last victim of this unjust and oppressive act. May Malaysians never have to fear expressing their opinion because of oppressive laws that seek to silence dissenting opinions from the powers and authorities, whoever they maybe.
A just and peaceful society will follow when freedom and the rights of all people are well respected and upheld.
Zaid Kamaruddin is chairman of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM). He released this statement on behalf of the following member organisations of GBM:
- All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
- Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia (BMSM)
- Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
- LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
- Merdeka University Berhad
- Monsoons Malaysia
- Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF)
- Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
- Persatuan Penduduk Petaling Jaya (MyPJ)
- Pusat Komas
- Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
- Tamil Foundation
- Tindak Malaysia
- United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)
- University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)