Sedition – a public interest issue

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In view of the unclear and subjective use of the Sedition Act, the emergence of the Gerak Mansuhkan Akta Hasutan seems understandable, writes Rakyat Jelata.

Repeal Sedition Act

One of the most commonly used words among police and politicians since 31 August has been ‘sedition’.

The frequent usage of the sedition charge under our now infamous Sedition Act 1948 seems to have become so commonplace that many are, no doubt, confused as to what ‘sedition’ actually is.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, sedition is defined as “…agitation against the authority of a State; conduct or speech tending to rebellion or breach of public order”. The definition clearly explains the nature of sedition – which allows any literate person sufficiently proficient in the English language to use it as a yardstick to gauge what is or is not sedition.

The slew of sedition charges levelled at opposition politicians, academics and journalists in recent months culminated ironically on ‘Merdeka’ Day with a sedition dragnet that rounded up apparent critics of the ruling Barisan Nasional party. Alleged sedition offenders include Dr Azmi Shahrom of Universiti Malaya’s law faculty, Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad of Pas, Padang Serai MP N Surendran (PKR), Seri Delima assembly member R S N Rayer (DAP), Seputeh MP Teresa Kok (DAP), Batu MP Chua Tian Chang (PKR), former Perak mentri besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin who is also Changkat Jering state assembly member (Pas), and Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli (PKR) among others.

What exactly did these persons say or do to be accused of sedition? A few of these cases may be food for thought:

  • Azmi Shahrom published a legal opinion on the internet regarding the legality of the way control of the Perak State government changed hands from Pakatan Rakyat to the Barisan Nasional in 2009. This was in fact a judicial decision, which carries weight and will no doubt be raised and argued in a court of law. Was it seditious for Dr. Azmi Shahrom, an expert and academic authority in this field to express such an opinion, albeit in the heat of a similar crisis in Selangor?
  • Teresa Kok was charged with sedition for a satirical Chinese New Year YouTube video mainly for a laugh. Her case is ongoing. Was this video seditious? The court must decide.
  • Nizar was charged with defaming PM Najib Razak.
  • Rafizi was charged with “provoking Umno members”.
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All these persons charged with ‘sedition’, defamation or having in one way or another offended the ruling party, government, rulers, police, or official faith of the State appear oblivious to what constitutes sedition in the eyes of the powers that be.

If this is the case with these ‘experts’, who should know better than the lay person, then surely, the ordinary averagely intelligent citizen is in grave danger of unknowingly running foul of the law and being charged with sedition as well. Much hangs on the seemingly subjective interpretation of the word seditious.

So, there possibly are many other potential ‘offenders’ out there who in exercising their basic human and constitutional right to freedom of expression may find themselves trapped in this dragnet.

Those recently hauled up for questioning include a journalist for a local online news portal, a Twitter user who allegedly made disparaging remarks about the IGP, and a student accused of insulting the monarchy (ntv7 News, 8 September 2014).

Returning to the meaning of ‘sedition’, ordinary citizens may perhaps consider examining statements made by certain government ministers e.g. a statement by Home Minister Zahid Hamidi on 2 September and Barisan Nasional-affiliated quarters such as Perkasa and Isma. Whether the statements made by them are, as they claim, not seditious and sincerely patriotic in nature depends on the motive behind these, reflected in the words and phrases used.

Ordinary Malaysian citizens are surely familiar with the rhetoric that emerges from politicians in the heat of condemnation and the ‘holier-than-thou’ speeches made by key leaders of various political parties and factions, especially in times of crisis. The Rakyat know well the ‘blame game’ often played, which results in confusion, inevitable exaggeration and blatant speculation by various parties, to gain political mileage by misleading the masses.

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Still, the underlying issue of sedition in all this heated debate must be clearly understood to maintain a sane and realistic perspective of the dust storm being kicked up around us.

In view of the unclear and subjective use of the sedition charge under the 1948 Act, the emergence of the Gerak Mansuhkan Akta Hasutan (movement for the repeal of the Sedition Act), by civil society organisations, democracy and rights advocates, and politicians, seems understandable. This is a logical and intelligent response, when things become distorted by abuse of power, insecurity, corruption, disaffection, and dissatisfaction.

The storm is still raging and the Rakyat must make up their minds how to withstand it and keep the fabric of our society’s integrity and unity intact and safe from those threatening to tear Malaysian society apart.

Rakyat Jelata is the pseudonym of a regular contributor to our Thinking Allowed Online section.

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Living Sarcasm (@BeEndStinks)
12 Sep 2014 7.47pm

There’s a murmur in every corner of the country!