Ambiga: Govt should repeal Sedition Act, consider new laws within bounds of human rights principles

A senior lawyer has urged the government to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, and to consider new laws which are within the bounds of human rights principles.

Datuk S. Ambiga said this was to curb irresponsible acts of incitement of racial and religious hatred, which may lead to discrimination or violence.

She said the government could look into the framework set in the United Nations (UN) Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.

“Malaysia is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and we should be conversant with such principles,” said Ambiga, who is also a human rights advocate.

Launched in 2013, the Rabat framework is a test that lays out six parameters to see if a statement is a criminal offence. Determined on a case-by-case basis, the test looks into the context, speaker, intent, content, extent of the speech, and likelihood of harm.

It also emphasises on the collective responsibility of state officials, religious and community leaders, the media, civil society, and all individuals to nurture social unity, tolerance, and dialogue, and to prevent incitement to hatred.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, said the Cabinet had agreed in principle to review the Sedition Act 1948 to ensure that it is used solely to protect the dignity of the royal institution.

Azalina said provocation related to religious and racial matters would also be looked into, and this includes drafting new laws – if required – to maintain unity and harmony. This will be done by taking into consideration the views of the royal institution as the custodian of Islam, and adopting best practices, in line with international standards.

Ambiga, a former president of the Malaysian Bar, stressed that the abolition of the “colonial era” Sedition Act was a promise made by Pakatan Harapan.

In their GE15 manifesto, Pakatan Harapan had reaffirmed its commitment to protect freedom of expression by promising to, among others, repeal the Sedition Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

“The government must stop resorting to the Sedition Act and abolish this archaic piece of legislation immediately,” said Ambiga.

“It is an outdated Act, easily abused, and has a broad interpretation, as the authorities do not have to demonstrate intent, or a tendency to violence, or a disruption of public order.”

Asked to comment on the government’s plan to review the Sedition Act to ensure it is used solely to protect the dignity of the royal institution, Ambiga said there were existing provisions within the Penal Code to deal with such issues.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today also questioned the government’s rationale in agreeing to review the Sedition Act, when it had already taken action against the alleged 3R (race, religion and royalty) offenders.

“Does the prime minister have the right to make his own laws? Which part of the Constitution gives the prime minister this power?” Dr Mahathir asked.

Debates on the use of the Sedition Act surfaced last week after caretaker Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor was slapped with two counts of sedition under the Sedition Act over a political speech he made on July 11.

The two charges levelled against Sanusi, to which he claimed trial to, was for allegedly uttering seditious remarks that could incite disloyalty towards the Malay Rulers.

Sanusi was reported to have passed a remark regarding the appointment of Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari as Selangor Menteri Besar during a ceramah by Perikatan Nasional in Selayang, Selangor, on July 11. If convicted, he faces a maximum jail term of three years, or a RM5,000 fine.

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