The Sedition charge against opposition politician Razali Idris is in outright breach of PH and Anwar’s promise to repeal the Sedition Act 1948
25 November 2023
We refer to the charge under section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act 1948 brought against Bersatu Information Chief (ADUN Kijal), Razali Idris, at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court yesterday for allegedly making a seditious statement about the judiciary in relation to the conviction of Muda leader Syed Saddiq.
We are appalled by the increasing crackdown on freedom of speech against opposition leaders under this Madani government. This is a worrying indication of things to come, setting the scene for a return of the oppressive Sedition Act and other laws which stifle freedom of expression.
The colonial-era Sedition Act 1948 grossly violates freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. The overly wide terms used in the Act provides any government of the day with excessive powers to decide what constitutes sedition, which severely curtails free speech and political freedoms in Malaysia.
Furthermore, any speech should not be deemed criminal just because it is alleged to have criticised the judiciary. Should the criticism be excessive, it is the law of contempt that must be invoked, and not the colonial-era Sedition Act. The threshold for legal restrictions on freedom of expression must remain high, particularly when the speech in question is not hateful, threatening or inciting violence.
Any disagreement on any issues, even controversial ones, should be debated and discussed, not threatened or intimidated into silence. It is for this reason that the oppressive Sedition Act must be abolished as the law is overly broad and vague where almost anything controversial can be construed as seditious.
By prosecuting Razali Idris for his speech criticizing the recent judicial decisions of public interest, the government is essentially hindering political discourse and dissent. In a democratic society, all Malaysians should have the freedom to discuss and debate such matters.
In today’s demand for greater transparency and accountability, the judiciary cannot evade public scrutiny of its conduct and judgments, as such scrutiny is integral to its role as the custodian of justice and the Federal Constitution. Knee-jerk legal action or criminal charges intended to ‘protect’ the judiciary, will only cast a negative light on the institution, prompting additional public scrutiny and criticism.
A mature and democratic government publicly responds to and answers criticism, instead of trying to jail critics.
Given that the PH-led government has repeatedly promised that the oppressive Sedition Act will be abolished, the AGC’s conduct in prosecuting Razali Idris under the Sedition Act is unacceptable.
The AG too must remember that it has a duty to uphold the Constitution and all the fundamental rights enshrined therein, including the right of all Malaysians to freedom of speech. It cannot be over emphasized that the AG represents the State, the community at large and the interest of justice, and not just the Government of the Day.
It is all the more disappointing that many of the then opposition leaders who are now in power, have failed to act against the use of the Sedition Act when they themselves are aware, and some have experienced first-hand, how easily the oppressive piece of legislation can be misused to target dissidents and political opponents in under the previous administration.
It is as unacceptable and outrageous to use the oppressive Sedition Act against PH and political detractors previously as it is to be used against PN and their supporters now. That does not change just because PH is in power.
In fact, the improper use of the judiciary, the AGC and police in bringing politically motivated charges under the oppressive Sedition Act against the opposition or dissidents undermines the rule of law and public confidence in the administration of justice.
We therefore urge the AG to urgently review and drop the charges against Razali Idris.
In addition, we urge the government to stop using the oppressive laws to clamp down on free speech and harass dissenters and to fulfil its repeated promises to abolish the Sedition Act and other oppressive laws, which should be communicated clearly to the AGC. Pending repeal, the government should impose a moratorium on all investigations and prosecutions under the oppressive Sedition Act.
Lawyers for Liberty