Sedition Act fuels worry


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 08 Oct 2015

PETALING JAYA: Non-governmental organisations and journalist groups expressed worry on the implications of the Federal Court ruling which declared the Sedition Act 1948 constitutional.

Amnesty International Malaysia said the ruling was a negative development for Malaysia and called for a repeal of the law.

“It is worth reminding that Malaysia subscribes to international law as a member of the United Nations, and has a responsibility of upholding its responsibilities to promote the freedom of expression,” said its executive director Shamini Darshni.

Human Rights Watch (Asia Division) deputy director Phil Robertson said by allowing the Act to remain in the law books, the Government and judiciary were defying international human rights law that protects freedom of speech.

Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan ca­ll­ed the continued use of the pre-­Merdeka law “an insult to the country’s independence and its sovereignty”.

The Federal Court on Tuesday ruled that although the Sedition Act placed restrictions on the freedom of expression – a power reserved for Parliament – Article 162 of the Federal Constitution required a looser interpretation to allow the pre-Merdeka legislative body to be treated as equal to Parliament.

International Commission of Jurist said the outcome left an important challenge for the Malaysian Bar to continue to question the Sedition Act.

The Centre for Independent Journalism said the courts had missed an opportunity to bring legal opinions in Malaysia into sync with the people’s aspirations.

It stated that the number of people facing charges under the Sedition Act showed both the legislature and the courts were being challenged by Malaysians exercising their civil liberties in spite of restrictive laws.

The fact that law professor Dr Azmi Sharom, who challenged the law, was charged over a statement he made to a news portal also caused worry among journalism groups.

The International Federation of Journalists said the decision continued the trend of Malaysia’s steady decline in press freedoms.

National Union of Journalist general secretary Schave Jerome De Rozario said the case’s outcome was indirectly a blow to press freedom, adversely affecting journalists’ work by making sources hesitant to speak to the media.

Institute of Journalists chairman Joseph Sipalan said affirmation of the Sedition Act would thin the pool of people willing to speak openly and compromise journalists ability to use sources.

This was because courts can compel journalists to expose the identities of whistleblowers and unnamed sources in the course of a sedition case, as the Act is a criminal law.

“Having such a law hanging over the heads of anyone with an opinion does a disservice to society itself, as they are not afforded a perspective beyond that which is sanctioned by the authorities,” he said.

In 2012, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak promised he would repeal the Sedition Act, but two years later he told the Umno general assembly that the law would remain.

Since 2013, more than 25 people have been charged under the Act.

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