Friday, January 11, 2019

Persistent Use of the Sedition Act 1948 Renders Election Promises Illusory

Press Release

Persistent Use of the Sedition Act 1948 Renders Election Promises Illusory

The Malaysian Bar is aghast that four persons have been detained under the Sedition Act 1948 in the first 11 days of 2019.  The first three individuals were detained on 8 January 2019 for allegedly uploading comments that insulted the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Muhammad V, and the fourth individual was detained on 11 January 2019 for allegedly accusing the Government of covering up the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. 

The Malaysian Bar does not condone nor abide by rudeness, insults and or disrespect for the Rulers, or for accusations to be levied against the Government without basis.  Such conduct is unwarranted, offensive and reprehensible.  Nevertheless, the Malaysian Bar does not advocate the criminalisation of such behaviour under the Sedition Act 1948.  We remain steadfast in our position that the Sedition Act 1948 is an archaic and repressive law that must be repealed. 

The Sedition Act 1948, as with its predecessor the Sedition Ordinance, was conceived and used as an instrument of oppression.  It imposes an unreasonable and disproportionate restriction to the fundamental freedom of expression enshrined in the Federal Constitution.  It is the antithesis of democracy, rule of law, justice and human rights.

The Sedition Act 1948 is unacceptable and repugnant to the rule of law for the further reasons that it creates offences arising from an act, speech, words, publication or other thing that are defined as having “seditious tendencies” which are imprecise and without clear boundaries. 

The use of the Sedition Act 1948, as in the aforementioned four cases, has been justified on the premise that there are matters deemed “sensitive” that must not be discussed, as this would lead to public disorder.  The Sedition Act 1948 is therefore said to be necessary to ensure and maintain harmony, unity and public order.  However, we hold the position that true respect and harmony cannot be attained by compulsion and penal sanctions.
We note that on 10 January 2019, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that the Government would define what constitutes insults, to serve as a guide for law enforcement agencies with regard to the use of the Sedition Act 1948.  The provision of a definition of what is insulting does not mitigate or alter the “oppressive” and “tyrannical” nature of the Sedition Act 1948 — words that the Government itself had used to describe the Sedition Act 1948, in its election manifesto for the 14th General Election in May 2018. 

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Government to reinstate its moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act 1948 pending its repeal; for appropriate new laws to be enacted; and for the police to cease all investigations pursuant to the Sedition Act 1948.

George Varughese 
Malaysian Bar

11 January 2019

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