Memorandum: Withdraw amendments which make theSedition Act a harsher tool of oppression
Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) have come toggether to express in thestrongest terms our opposition to the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948.
We view the proposed changes as a major setback to fundamental liberties and ruleof law, the latest in the series of assaults on the nation’s democracy.
The way in which this amendment bill is enacted is nothing short of deplorable. It was done in secret, without consulting opposition members of Parliament, and stakeholders such as civil society and the Malaysian Bar.
Its introduction to members of Parliament yesterday for debate today leaves little room for a robust discussion and critique of this important piece of legislation, a modus operandi used liberally by the BN-led government of late.
The repeal of the “seditious tendency” provisions against the government and theadministration of justice in the Act is a small improvement. However, the rest of the amendments do not address other problematic provisions found in the Act.
In fact, if passed, the amendments fortify the already draconian law with harsh anddisproportionate punishment. It further straitjackets legitimate criticisms by enlargingthe definition of what is seditious.
We deplore the Bill for these reasons:
1. The explanatory statement, citing an increase of harmful and malicious comments attacking our tolerant and plural society as the reason for the Act’s continued relevance, is misleading. It is the government which has been tacitly supporting extremist behaviour and using the Act to clamp down on opposition politicians, academics, lawyers, dissidents, journalists, and others, to make certain issues off limits, stifle civil liberties and create a climate offear reminiscent of the worst days under the iron-fisted Mahathir regime.
2. It is disrespectful of the Federal Court, which is currently hearing the challenge by law lecturer Assoc Prof Azmi Sharom on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act 1948.
3. The inclusion of “religion” as an additional ground for seditious tendency is unwarranted; there are sufficient provisions in the Penal Code to cover hatespeech relating to religion.
4. The increased punishment from a fine of not more than RM5,000 orimprisonment not exceeding 3 years, to a harsher punishment: mandatoryimprisonment between 3 to 7 years, thus taking away the courts’ sentencingdiscretion and ensuring offenders are punished harshly.
5. Creation of “aggravated” sedition for offences leading to bodily injuries ordamage to property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term between5 and 20 years. This provision seems tenuous and unusual and would bebetter dealt with under the Penal Code;
6. Non-granting of bail when charged for “aggravated” sedition cases;
7. Requirement to surrender one’s passport and being prevented from leavingMalaysia when charged for “ordinary” sedition cases;
8. Prohibitory order to prevent access to any electronic device if one has made aseditious publication; fine up to RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3years if one breaches the order;
9. Failure to remove prohibited publication by electronic means can be fined upto RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years;
10. Courts can authorise sites to be blocked if anonymous seditious commentscannot be identified.
11. Legitimate demands for secession are used as an illustration of what isconsidered seditious; this is against the right to self-determination.
The proposed amendments are absolutely scandalous and disproportionately punishmere “speech offences” with no real victims, unlike common crimes like robbery ormurder.
We too believe that freedom of speech is not absolute. However, the threshold forcurbing freedom of speech – e.g. incitement to violence and hate speech – must behigh to ensure legitimate criticisms and political dissent are not criminalised.
This archaic law, which Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to repeal in July 2012and has since reneged on that promise, has no place in a modern and democraticMalaysia that we aspire to be.
Given that legitimate secession calls will be classified as seditious, we especially callupon the elected representatives from Sabah and Sarawak to speak up and help puta stop to this Bill.
We urge the government to immediately withdraw the amendments on the SeditionAct 1948; impose a moratorium over its further use; and work towards itsabolishment.