Friday, September 19, 2014

Malaysian Bar:- Cease the Sedition Act Onslaught

Press Release | Cease the Sedition Act Onslaught 
 Thursday, 18 September 2014 05:20pm 

ImageThe Malaysian Bar is appalled by the unrelenting misuse of the Sedition Act 1948 and other laws, and investigations and threats of prosecutions thereunder, to stifle speech and expression over the past four weeks.  The abuse has continued unabated in the past few days.
We refer to the following incidents:
(1) A preacher, Abu Bakar Baikalani, was reported in the news media on 11 September 2014 as having been arrested and under investigation pursuant to section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 for allegedly insulting the Government and police, by criticising the mass arrest of members of Pasukan Peronda Sukarela (“PPS”);

(2) A lawyer, Edmund Bon, was reported in the news media on 12 September 2014 as being investigated under the Sedition Act 1948 in relation to his alleged comments on the Federal Constitution, by way of legal opinion, in a news report entitled “Bukan Islam tidak perlu patuh kepada titah Diraja atau fatwa, kata peguam”;

(3) An opposition politician and lawyer, Hassan Karim, was reported in the news media on 13 September 2014 as being investigated under the Sedition Act 1948 over postings on Twitter with regard to the Selangor Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) crisis.  The police had attended at his house and confiscated his laptop and mobile phone;

(4) A director of a Malaysia-based think-tank known as Inter-Research and Studies, Wong Hoi Cheng, was reported in the news media on 15 September 2014 as having been charged in court under section 504 of the Penal Code for allegedly insulting and provoking the Inspector General of Police (“IGP”), by having tweeted a criticism of the mass arrest of members of PPS and comparing the IGP to Henrich Himmler, the leader of the feared “SS” during Adolf Hitler’s World War II rule over Germany.  He also faces an alternative charge under section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
These recent events or actions are alarming.  The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned that as we celebrate the 51st anniversary of the formation of Malaysia we are lurching steadily towards an intolerant authoritarian State.
The recent reports of a lawyer, Edmund Bon, being placed under investigation for expressing his legal opinion on matters in the public domain are deplorable.  The Malaysian Bar also recalls the recent prosecution of Dr Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer, for offering an opinion on matters connected with the law and the Federal Constitution.  It is unjustifiable and unacceptable that people are being placed under investigation or charged for expressing opinions or views with regard to or based on the law and the Federal Constitution.

Lawyers are duty-bound by the Legal Profession Act 1976 and the Montreal Declaration of June 1983 to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour, and without regard to their own interest; and to protect and assist the public in all matters touching, ancillary or incidental to the law.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides that lawyers shall have the right to freedom of expression, belief and assembly, and shall have “the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and the promotion and protection of human rights”.

The United Nations Basic Principles go on to provide that governments shall ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference”, as well as “shall not suffer, or be threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics”.

Previous to the recent events, we witnessed various actions being taken by the authorities under the Sedition Act 1948, or section 499 or section 504 of the Penal Code, against students, an academic, members of civil society, journalists, Members of Parliament and Members of the State Assembly.  There was additionally the mass arrest of members of the PPS immediately after they completed their participation in the Penang State National Day parade.

These actions by the authorities have given rise to grave concerns that a culture of intimidation, fear and subjugation is being perpetrated and perpetuated by the misuse of the Sedition Act 1948 and other laws such as section 499 and section 504 of the Penal Code.

The Malaysian Bar shares the wishes and hopes of all right-thinking Malaysians for genuine peace, harmony and unity.  The Malaysian Bar however questions whether these can simply be legislated into existence, and whether the use of the Sedition Act 1948, and the other laws as described, would serve to achieve these aspirations.  In addressing the substantive issues, the people of Malaysia should honestly ask themselves these questions: “Who is it that is behaving in a menacing manner and threatening public disorder?  Who is it that is causing disharmony and disunity?  Is the Sedition Act 1948 being evenly used?”  The answers are plain for all to see, if only one bothers to look.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the authorities to cease their action against all of these individuals, and to recognise the right to freedom of speech and expression.  The authorities must not use an abhorrent piece of colonial-era legislation to protect themselves from fair comment and criticism. 

Christopher Leong
Malaysian Bar

18 September 2014

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