The Govt’s new plan to amend and retain the Sedition Act 1948 is an unacceptable betrayal of the promise of reform
27 July 2023
We refer to the statement made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said on 25 July 2023, that the Cabinet has agreed to review the Sedition Act 1948 and that amendments will be made to limit it’s use to only matters involving the royal institution.
The Sedition Act 1948 which was enacted during the colonial era, is an antiquated and draconian piece of legislation that poses a devastating threat to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of our Constitution.
The Sedition Act is so vaguely and widely couched that it is near impossible for a member of the public to know which type of comment will be deemed seditious. Thus it will strike fear into the public and retard constructive discourse.
Many commonwealth countries have repealed the backward colonial-era legislation or put it into disuse due to its history of being an instrument of oppression and its broad and vague provisions that has been used over the years as a tool to curtail legitimate expressions of dissent and suppresses freedom of speech.
In short, the sedition law is a diabolical and cruel British colonial law once used to oppress national freedom-fighters, which must be consigned to the trash-heap of history. That the PH-led government is now plotting to give this unjust law a new lease of life is simply appalling and unacceptable.
In fact, when in opposition Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the PH coalition had consistently promised to Malaysians that they will repeal the Sedition Act if they take federal power and incorporated this promise in successive election manifestos. In power now, they are brazenly singing a different tune.
It is a betrayal of the promise of reform for this government to now back-pedal on their promise to repeal the Sedition Act by purportedly qualifying its use to only matters involving royalty. No such qualifications or conditions were made by Anwar Ibrahim and other PH leaders when they called for the Sedition Act’s repeal. A law such as the Sedition Act, that is anathema to fundamental rights cannot be amended, but must be extinguished.
It is necessary and timely for this government to shed the remnants of a colonial-era legislation and embrace a progressive legal framework that values public discourse and critical discussions, irrespective of the subject matter, to ensure that people can express their opinions freely and responsibly without the fear of persecution or reprisals.
We therefore urge the government to drop the plan to retain the Sedition Act for matters related to the Rulers and instead repeal the Sedition Act in its entirety. By doing so, the government will show its commitment and sincerity in upholding freedom of speech in accordance with the Federal Constitution and international human rights standards.
Lawyers for Liberty