US Bar presses Putrajaya to bin sedition law


(Malay Malay Online) – The American Bar Association today urged Malaysia to discontinue prosecuting under the Sedition Act 1948, saying the law violates international standards on freedom of expression.

Citing the cases of Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom and civil liberties lawyer Eric Paulsen, the ABA said the duo’s cases were part of an apparent pattern of harassment against lawyers and human rights activists in Malaysia.

“Freedom of expression, in particular on matters of public interest, is not only a basic individual right but necessary to a free and just society,” William C. Hubbard, the president of the ABA, said in an open letter to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today.

Hubbard wrote that Malaysia was duty-bound to respect international conventions on human rights by virtue of its membership to the United Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Asean, adding that freedom of expression was a right explicitly guaranteed under Malaysia’s own Federal Constitution.

He further said that sedition laws were obsolete in most countries while those that still retain such legislation must limit their use to cases of incitement towards the overthrow of a duly elected government.

“No one should be charged with sedition for expressing their views on matters of public concern,” Hubbard concluded.

Azmi was charged with sedition last year for providing his legal opinion on the Selangor mentri besar crisis, in which he drew parallels with the Perak constitutional crisis of 2009.

Azmi’s case is currently pending a Federal Court hearing of his challenge against the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.

Paulsen was arrested and charged in February over a tweet in which he allegedly accused the federal Islamic Development Department (Jakim) of spreading extremism.

Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act 1948 that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but later announced that it will be retained and expanded instead.

Najib also announced that the Act will be strengthened with two extra provisions: One prohibiting insults against all religions, and the other prohibiting talks of Sabah and Sarawak seceding from Malaysia.