The apex court today declared the law enacted under British rule was constitutional.
Today’s ruling will impact some 30 politicians, government critics and activists who have been charged under the act since last year.
In September 2 last year, Azmi, a law lecturer with Universiti Malaya, was charged under Section 4(1)(b) and Section 4(1)(c) of the act over his comments in an article titled “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told” that was published in a news portal.
If convicted under either charge, he will face a maximum fine of RM5,000 or three years’ prison, or both.
Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria, who delivered the unanimous judgment of the five-man bench, said the act did not run foul of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which pertained to the freedom of speech, expression and assembly.
He said the courts had limited power to review an act passed by Parliament.
“It is not for the court to determine a restriction imposed by parliament,” he said.
In April, Federal Counsel Tun Abdul Majid Tun Hamzah told the court during submissions that although the act was not a law made by Parliament, it must be construed to have been made by the federal legislature.
He said Malaysia’s Parliament was only founded in 1959, and although the Sedition Act was not enacted by parliament, the law received a stamp of constitutional approval by the legislature.
The Sedition Act was also extensively amended after the racial riot in 1969.
Azmi ‘s counsel, Datuk Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, submitted that the act, originally known as the Sedition Ordinance 1948, was enacted by the Legislative Council.
He said the act was incapable of being modified and had become void upon establishment of the Federal Constitution in 1957.
Malik added that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong did not have the authority in law to modify the Sedition Ordinance.
But Arifin today told a packed court room that Parliament had the exclusive authority to make laws and that the legislature could modify pre-independence legislation.
“Such could be modified to bring them in line with the constitution,” the judge added.
He said the court could also not add or remove words in the constitution or else it would be construed as rewriting the supreme law of the land.
Arifin added that the punishment provision in the act was in line with aims and object of Articles 10 (2) (a), which allowed Parliament to impose restrictions on the freedom of speech as it deems necessary in the interest of security, public order or morality and on other grounds to protect the federal and state legislatures.
He also noted that the Sedition Act did not impose total prohibition on freedom of speech, as there were exceptions in law, such as in legitimate criticism of a ruler or of the government.
“It is not seditious to show that any Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures, or to point out errors in any government or constitution as by law established,” the chief judge added.
“With the above findings, we now order that this matter (Azmi’s trial) be remitted to the Sessions Court for the proceedings to be continued without any further delay,” he said. – October 6, 2015.
-V. Anbalagan, The Malaysian Insider