Harmony laws will protect royals and Malays’ special position, says A-G


(The Malaysian Insider) – New National Harmony laws may end up further tightening Putrajaya’s grip on free speech on the topics of race, special privileges and the royal institution, judging from a recent speech by Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail.

The country’s top prosecutor said that among the principles set down by the prime minister for the new laws, there must be nothing that “would incite hatred and contempt or disloyalty to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong or any Ruler”.

All provisions regarding the different ethnic groups in Malaysia under Articles 152, 153 and 181 of the Federal Constitution would also be protected, Gani said.

“The new law would also proscribe promotion of ill will and enmity among races or different groups of peoples in Malaysia, and would prohibit the questioning of any rights, position, privileges, sovereignty and prerogatives as prescribed or protected under the provisions (of the Federal Constitution),” the text of his speech at the recent Ilkap National Law Conference 2014 said.

Gani was talking about the current debate over the Sedition Act 1948 and whether it should be repealed or amended and retained alongside National Harmony laws to regulate race relations.

The A-G likened the current debate as a “nationalistic struggle” about the future of the colonial-era law, enacted by the British and broad in its definition of what can be deemed seditious as well as loose in requiring proof of seditious intent.

“Those that advocate its wholesale repeal and substitution with a ‘national harmony’, ‘race relations’ or ‘hate-crime’ type legislation modeled on the laws in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States of America say that (the Sedition Act) is archaic.

“However, those that fear its repeal will lead to social disorder, anarchy or compromise of the special position of the Malay Rulers, which in turn would jeopardise the Malay Rulers ability to uphold Islam and safeguard Malay/Bumiputra rights, now argue for its retention,” the A-G said.

He reiterated that the government was still in talks with various groups about the new national harmony laws, and it was still undecided if there would be new legislation, or if the Sedition Act would merely be amended.

Gani said the government “refused to be hurried” despite pressure from civil society on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to uphold his promise, which was first made in July 2012, to repeal the Sedition Act.

The A-G indicated, however, that he was open to having separate laws to deal with contempt of court and criticism of the government if there was “consensus” that such criticism should no longer be treated as having seditious tendencies.

He said he was personally of the view that contempt of court should come under a separate law, but that issues related to the Malays’ and Bumiputeras’ special position, the Malay Rulers and the position of Islam should remain in the Sedition Act.