September 7, 2014
by Terence Gomez
When Azmi Sharom, Associate Professor of Law at the Universiti Malaya, was charged under Malaysias Sedition Act for providing a legal opinion on a constitutional matter, it shocked the academic community.
It was particularly alarming to academics as it is now well acknowledged that the Sedition Act is an obsolete relic of British colonial rule, introduced to curb dissent. Even Prime Minister Najib Razak had expressed the view, about two years ago, that this Act had to be repealed.
Najibs government is now preparing a National Harmony Bill to replace this Act. Azmi was, however, one of a number of people, many of them politicians in opposition parties, to be charged under this Act in the recent past.
The issue that Azmi had commented on was in response to the question as to how the next Selangor menteri besar should be selected. Azmis views were published in the online portal of The Malay Mail. He is quoted as saying two things in this article: You dont want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place and I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do (in Selangor) is do it as legally and transparently as possible.
It was baffling that these opinions were viewed as being seditious. In fact, the Bar Council, in its statement on Azmis case, is quoted as saying that his comments cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, constitute sedition. Azmi, in response to this charge, has argued that his statements were based on established case laws and democratic principles and that he views this charge against him as a blow to academic freedom and the freedom of expression.