No need for Race Relations Act

The less severe law as suggested by the proposer of the Race Relations Act is in fact already available and that is the Sedition Act 1948. The concept of sedition in our country is much broader than in some other countries, such as the UK, India, Australia, etc.

Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman, The Malay Mail

IT is generally acknowledged we have some fundamental racial challenges in our country.

However, there appears to be a high degree of tolerance by the majority of the people and the situation has been kept stabilised.

Solutions to the problems are by no means easy to find but everyone must contribute towards achieving national unity and racial harmony.

There are about 60 races with at least three major components and five different school systems and except for the national school system, they are mainly based on racial lines.

Most of the political parties are also organised on racial lines.

There is a long history of ethnic pluralism and of economic dualism falling within racial lines. A unifying factor acceptable to all concerned has not been found.

What some people are striving to do now is to propose some laws which hopefully will ensure an enduring racial harmony.

The plurality of the population and dualism of the economy fell neatly within ethnic demarcations and constituted the fundamental underlying basis which shaped the political interactions of the country before and since independence.

From time to time, there are people who for reasons best known to themselves will create racial issues which may result in having racial tension in the country.

Some time ago, there was publicity on some people making public statements which were interpreted as tending to incite or stir racial hatred or ill-will. Three persons were arrested and detained under the ISA and an UMNO leader’s membership was suspended. Two of those detained under ISA have been released.

There was a lot of discussions in the media and somebody suggested the government should look into the matter and introduce a law, such as the Race Relations Act, which is less severe than the ISA.

The government responded by agreeing to examine the suggestion. The National Unity, Culture Arts and Heritage Minister then stated the government would study the matter by looking at the possibility of having a law which would be more specific than the ISA or the Sedition Act.

However, nothing specific has been decided and the government would welcome views from the public. In fact, the minister mentioned about examining related laws adopted by the United Kingdom.

Apparently, the issue of having a Race Relations Act has recently surfaced again. We are not sure what the law is supposed to do or what the law is supposed to outlaw.

Some have suggested we should have a Race Relations Act which provides punishment for insulting or inciting groups of people based on race, religion, etc., and threatening or harming them for the same reasons.

Some have suggested we should have anti-racial discrimination law which provides punishment for people who practise discrimination on racial grounds.

In any case, the law will be very complex and controversial, and may even defeat the very purpose of fostering racial harmony.

Different countries tackle the racial issues differently depending on their own specific problems. We have so far relied mainly on the Internal Security Act 1960 and the Sedition Act 1948 when dealing with cases involving the act of inciting racial hatred or ill-will.

Generally, it is felt there is no need for any review of the laws we have to solve the problem of outlawing the act of causing racial hatred which threatens racial harmony.

The less severe law as suggested by the proposer of the Race Relations Act is in fact already available and that is the Sedition Act 1948. The concept of sedition in our country is much broader than in some other countries, such as the UK, India, Australia, etc.

Of course, on ideal democratic standards, our law is open to many criticisms for its far-reaching implications on political life in the country.

One unusual aspect of our law is even parliamentary proceedings are not exempt from the law of sedition to prevent parliamentary debates from causing tension or unrest outside the Houses. “Sensitive issues”
cannot be questioned anywhere.

The Sedition Act came into force on July 19, 1948. In so far as the right to freedom of speech is concerned, the Sedition Act qualifies such a right by making it an offence for any person to utter seditious words or to print or publish any seditious materials. Section 2 defines seditious words, when applied to or used in respect of any speech, words, or publications, as having a seditious tendency.

As to the meaning of ‘seditious tendency’, Section 3(1) provides it is a tendency:

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government;
(b) to excite the subjects of any Ruler or the inhabitants of any territory governed by any Government to attempt to procure in the territory of Ruler or governed by the Government, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means of any matter as by law established;
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia or in any State;
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of any State; or
(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia;
(f) to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of part III of the Federal Constitution or Articles 152, 153 or 181 of the Federal Constitution.

The restrictions were aimed at restricting public discussion on four ‘sensitive’ issues: citizenship (Part III of the Malaysian Constitution); the National Language and the languages of other communities (Article 152); the special position and privileges of the Malays, the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and the legitimate interest of other communities in Malaysia (Article 153); and the sovereignty of the Rulers (Article 181).

As can be seen from the above, Sections 2 and 3 of the Sedition Act 1948 are wide enough to cover situations in relation to racial incitement. Under Section 4 of the Sedition Act, a person convicted of the offence shall be liable to a fine of RM5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both.

A Racial Discriminatory Act outlawing acts of discrimination on grounds of race is in my view not appropriate as it cannot be reconciled with the constitutional provision of Article 153, etc. So we should not have that kind of law.

My view is there is no necessity to do anything now as the problems we have can be solved by the application of the Sedition Act. The more serious cases can be dealt with under the ISA.

If at all we need an additional law, my view is we need not have a new full Act of Parliament on the subject as it will unnecessarily cause excitement and create enforcement problems. All we need to do is to add one section in the Penal Code similar to Section 298 A (causing hatred or ill-will on grounds of religion). The new section will cater for cases of causing hatred or ill-will on grounds of race.

In any case, the government should conduct a proper enquiry into all the issues first before embarking on what steps to take so as to justify the legitimacy of whatever action the government takes.

In my next article, I shall elaborate on the Malaysian constitutional developments and related issues.

TAN SRI ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN was formerly managing director of the then Malaysian Airline System (MAS) for 20 years. Prior to this, he was a judicial and legal officer in the government for 10 years.