Civil society has responded to the sedition arrests with strong calls to abolish the Sedition Act and announced the formation of Gerak Hapuskan Akta Hasutan (GHAH), write Prema Devaraj and Chris Chong.
The last two weeks following our Merdeka anniversary has made of us wonder about the state of the nation yet again. The recent spate of arrests of a range of people charged has left many asking whether Operation Lalang II was beginning or about to take place.
The dragnet netted not only politicians from the opposition parties but also a journalist, an academician, a Muslim preacher and other activists. They were all charged under the Sedition Act, which is being used to silence critics of the government.
This law dates back to the time of British colonial rule and it was then inherited by independent Malaya (and subsequently Malaysia). Instead of it being abolished, it was amended post-1969, making it illegal to question issues such as citizenship, national language, the special position of the Malays and the rights of other races, and the rulers’ sovereignty as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak promised that this colonial-era legal relic would be repealed and replaced with a National Harmony Act. Perhaps it is time that the Prime Minister makes good his promise: he should first direct the attorney general to withdraw all charges against those involved and then set in motion the steps needed to abolish this legal relic in Parliament.
Yet two years on, the Sedition Act is still here and we are witnessing what many have described as selective prosecution by authorities to silence dissension from many quarters. The targets do not seem to be random but seem to be related very much to issues pertaining to the 3 R’s – race, religion and royalty.
The problem with this law is that its definition of “sedition” is so wide that it limits freedom of expression in the public sphere (particularly on political issues) – a freedom that is a precondition for the democratic society that we aspire to.
Rakyat Jelata writes about sedition here .
Civil society responded to the sedition arrests immediately with strong calls to abolish the Sedition Act including the formation of Gerak Hapuskan Akta Hasutan (GHAH) by over 100 civil society groups including Aliran.
At the same time The Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee launched a nationwide campaign to pressure Putrajaya to repeal the Sedition Act 1948.
Aliran has started an online ‘Repeal Sedition Act’ petition. Make your concerns about the Sedition Act known and persuade the government to abolish the Sedition Act by signing the petition. There is also a twitter campaign e.g. #MansuhAktaHasutan.
On another note, this year’s MerdekaDay was marred by the arrests of 155 members of the Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit (PPS) and its chairman Phee Boon Poh (who is also an exco member of the Penang state government). Aliran was appalled by this incident and put up a statement requesting that the authorities explain the arrests. You can read Aliran’s statement on this incident here.
Layering beneath all this is of course the Selangor Menteri Besar crisis, which remains unresolved. The machinations which have brought about this predicament have left many feeling disillusioned and ambivalent about Pakatan politics. The discussion regarding the possibility of a woman at the helm of the Selangor state government has disintegrated into disparaging comments about Wan Azizah’s capabilities. The country is reminded of the Sultan’s discretion on the matter of selection of the Menteri Besar.
The laying of blame and confusion has been portrayed as a Pas vs PKR and DAP situation on one level. But apparently there are internal disputes within the parties over the handling of the issue. The fallout from this episode could spell the end for Pakatan – but then again the road to Putrajaya was never going to be a smooth one. The entire episode is for sure a huge eye opener about a number of issues including the importance of principles in politics, trust and the sharing of power. Read P Ramakrishnan’s take on the issue here.
Far from our shores, in war torn Syria, we learn that about 40 Malaysians have joined the Islamic State fights in Syria and some have been killed. The Global Movement of Moderates and Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia have condemned IS as an extremist group and are urging Malaysian youths not to join.
The question which needs to be asked is, what sparks this level of extremism in Malaysia? We continue to witness in Malaysia many chauvinist statements from various leaders. The politicisation of both ethnicity and religion is leading the country down a particular path. We have to ask ourselves whether we want to be led down this path and whether we can change the path being set for us. Mustafa Kamal Anuar invites us to take a look at ourselves in his article.
Many in civil society are calling for moderation, a message which must go not only to the ground but also to the top. Perhaps it is civil society, the ordinary people in this country, who will have to show the leadership the way forward.
Finally, we are reminded that there is no room for hypocrisy in politics. Malaysians must let principles rather than expediency guide what we say in the public space. A nation that allows itself to be guided by hypocrisy in the political sphere will flounder rather than flourish. As a nation, we need to reacquaint ourselves with the vision and principles which the nation’s founders have bequeathed upon us so as to prosper as a democratic society which can be an example to those around us.
Prema Devaraj and Chris Chong
Co-editors, Aliran e-newsletter
15 September 2014