PETALING JAYA: Using the Sedition Act to arrest blogger Papagomo is "a step backwards" that gives an impression that there is a need for the colonial-era act, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said.
CIJ director Sonia Randhawa said at a time where the situation in Malaysia is tense, there is an urgent need to remove politics from the prosecution of people accused of inciting violence or hate speech.
These can be prosecuted under Section 298A of the Penal Code.
"It is thus with concern that CIJ notes that despite the announced moratorium on the Sedition Act, it has been used to detain Wan Muhammad Azri," she said, using Papagomo's real name, in a statement Monday (Dec 3).
"Given that the Cabinet had declared a moratorium on prosecution, and that the Government has committed to the repeal of the Sedition Act, this investigation is particularly worrying," she said.
CIJ urged the repeal of the Sedition Act and the passage of a Media Freedom Act.
Randhawa said the Media Freedom Act would clearly set out the limits of freedom of speech through the use of clear exemptions to the right, what it means to do harm to those exemptions and when those exemptions themselves might not apply due to a larger public interest.
This is a better alternative to the Sedition Act where its broad definitions encompass many everyday acts, words and publications.
Sonia said that while Section 298A of the Penal Code is an improvement over the Sedition Act as it has a tighter definition of what constitutes a crime, it is also important to clearly delineate how freedom of expression can be made a reality.
"Freedom of speech and expression cannot be underestimated in the prevention of widespread racial violence," she said.
"To ensure the ongoing stability and peace of our nation, we need to inculcate a culture of debate and discussion, starting immediately," she added.
On Nov 29, police arrested Umno Youth’s Wan Muhammad Azri to help in a probe over a video post that was deemed seditious, allegedly spread racial hatred and touched on religious sensitivities.
On Sunday (Dec 2) Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the Cabinet at its meeting on Friday (Nov 30) decided to withdraw the moratorium on certain security Acts to allow the police to handle the recent riots at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in USJ 25 here.
The acts include the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) 2017 (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), Sedition Act 1948 and Security Offences Special Measures Act (Sosma)