Amendments will make the already draconian Sedition Act far worse
7 April 2015
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the amendment bill to the Sedition Act 1948 which was only revealed to members of Parliament today despite its manifest importance but like many other bills, leaves little room and time for meaningful debate.
This bill, if passed, constitutes an appalling setback, the most serious assault on the nation’s democracy, fundamental liberties and rule of law as it makes the already draconian Sedition Act far worse.
It is all the more deplorable since these very serious amendments were done in secret and without any consultation with opposition members of Parliament, civil society and the Malaysian Bar.
While we welcome the repeal of the “seditious tendency” provisions against the government and the administration of justice, the rest of the bill however makes clear the totalitarian streak that runs through the entire bill, among others:
1. Inclusion of “religion” as an additional ground for seditious tendency. This is unwarranted as there are sufficient provisions in the Penal Code to cover hate speech relating to religion;
2. Increased punishment from a fine of not more than RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years to imposing harsher punishment: mandatory imprisonment between 3 to 7 years, thus taking away the courts’ sentencing discretion and ensuring offenders are punished harshly;
3. Creation of “aggravated” sedition for offences leading to bodily injuries or damage to property and is punishable with imprisonment for a term between 5 and 20 years. This provision seems tenuous and unusual and would be better dealt with under the Penal Code;
4. Non granting of bail when charged for “aggravated” sedition cases;
5. Requirement to surrender one’s passport and being prevented from leaving Malaysia when charged for “ordinary” sedition cases;
6. Prohibitory order to prevent access to any electronic device if one has made a seditious publication; fine up to RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years if one breaches the order;
7. Failure to remove prohibited publication by electronic means can be fined up to RM5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years;
8. Courts can authorise sites to be blocked if anonymous seditious comments cannot be identified.
These amendments are absolutely scandalous and seek to provide harsh and disproportionate punishment to what are essentially mere “speech offences” with no real victims, unlike common crimes like robbery or murder.
While it is true freedom of speech is not absolute and there are accepted limitations e.g. incitement to violence and hate speech – the threshold for freedom of speech however must be high.
Sedition is an antiquated and undemocratic offence and most modern states have repealed or put it into disuse. It certainly has no place in a modern and democratic Malaysia that we aspire to be. It is still not too late.
We call upon the government to immediately withdraw these very harsh amendments on the Sedition Act 1948; impose a moratorium over its further use; and work towards its abolishment.
Lawyers for Liberty
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