KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government plans to strengthen its Sedition Act, fresh after enacting an anti-terrorism law denounced by the opposition and rights groups as a threat to civil liberties.
Ittabled on Tuesday (Apr 7) amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 for its first reading in parliament.As with the Prevention of Terrorism Bill passed early Tuesday, the amendments to the Sedition Act have been slammed by human rights activists.
Prime Minister Najib Razak had once pledged to repeal the controversial law introduced during British colonial rule to curb dissent. But the government said increased harmful and malicious comments jeopardising Malaysian ideals such as racial and religious harmony contributed to the change of heart.
However critics said the amendments silence free speech and cannot be justified.”They’re using a nuclear bomb to kill a mosquito or a fly. It’s overdone. It’s a terrible, terrible piece of legislation, terrible amendments,” saidAmbiga Sreenevasan from the Movement to Abolish the Sedition Act and who is a former Bar Council president.
Under the amendments, comments on religion that could spark hostility would be an offence – one that would carry harsher penalties, including a compulsory jail term.
The government intends to remove subclauses that regulate criticisms of the government or the justice system. Still, many lawmakers are skeptical – even those from the ruling coalition.
Bung Moktar Radin is an MP from Sabah – where there has been talk of secession from Malaysia. He fears Sabahans will unwittingly be charged as Sedition Act amendments include a subclause criminalising this.
He said: “That’s why I asked the minister, ‘how about if the kampung (village) people put a statement on Facebook and they put ‘like’. Are those people also going to be ditangkap (arrested)?’ So, it’s no good. ”
But it’s now unclear if the amendment Bill can or should even be debated. Critics argue that amendments should not have been proposed in the first place because of an ongoing court challenge on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.
Ambiga Sreenevasan said: “Subjudice is one thing. But it’s also totally disrespectful to the Federal Court. The Federal Court, the highest court in the land, is deciding whether it’s constitutional and you don’t care about that. You carry on and amend it. And of course it is a total waste of time, because if the Federal Court decides it is unconstitutional, the Act falls, the amendment falls.”