‘Unsalvageable’ Sedition Act must be abolished, say rights groups

Lawyers for Liberty adviser N Surendran says the legislation cannot be saved, calling the decision to amend it unacceptable and regressive.

(FMT) – Rights groups have called for the abolition of the Sedition Act 1948, saying no amendment can save the controversial legislation which Pakatan Harapan (PH) had previously promised to repeal.

Lawyers for Liberty adviser N Surendran said the government’s decision to amend the act was unacceptable and regressive.

“The Sedition Act has been notoriously abused for political purposes and to crush dissent, due to the vague definition of ‘seditious tendency’ used under the act,” he said, adding that its abolition was the only way forward.

Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv meanwhile said it was “deeply disappointing” and that amending the act went against the PH government’s commitments to its repeal.

“There is a clear pattern over the years that depicts how the act has been used as a weapon to undermine freedom of expression, whether through the harassment of ‘opening investigations’ to actual prosecutions,” she said.

She said a reform-minded government should acknowledge how oppressive laws stifle expression and political participation, and urged Putrajaya to fulfil its commitment to repeal the law.

Lawyer Andrew Khoo said the Penal Code contained adequate provisions to protect the royalty, rendering amendments to the Sedition Act redundant.

“The act is unfair and unjust because you can be convicted under the act even if there is no intention to insult or incite, or even if you are speaking the truth.

“No amount of amending will help cure an oppressive piece of legislation,” he said.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the Sedition Act should be replaced with the national harmony bills proposed by the Bar Council to enhance interracial and interfaith relations.

“The national harmony and reconciliation commission established through these bills would be instrumental in improving interfaith understanding and minority group inclusion, especially when there is a longstanding lack of institutionalised dialogue mechanisms,” Sevan said.

In July last year, then Bar president Karen Cheah proposed three bills: a racial and religious hate crimes bill, a national harmony and reconciliation bill, and a national harmony and reconciliation commission bill.

She said these bills would act as a replacement for the Sedition Act, and help in “achieving the balance of upholding freedom of speech while maintaining public security”.

Previously, home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the Cabinet had agreed to commence the process of amending the controversial Sedition Act, starting by engaging with the police.

He said the objective was not to tighten restrictions but to determine how the act could be used to address issues of race, religion and royalty.