PETALING JAYA: The government’s intention to abolish the Sedition Act by this year is welcomed, but there must be close scrutiny to prevent the introduction of a new law that can be a new Sedition Act in disguise, said Gerakan president Datuk Dr Dominic Lau.
“Gerakan urges the government to reinstate the moratorium on the Sedition Act 1948 pending its repeal and for police to cease all investigations under the law,” he said.
He said the Pakatan Harapan government should show its commitment and sincerity by first dropping all pending charges under this repressive law immediately without condition.
Lau said in a statement the announcement by Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong that the government plans to abolish the Sedition Act was long overdue and the government must not backtrack again on its promise.
“Gerakan has always been a part of the call to abolish the Sedition Act; we were part of the efforts to narrow its definition and condemned selective prosecution, and we continue to envision its eventual abolishment,” he said yesterday.
Lau said the party noted that the Pakatan government had imposed a moratorium on oppressive laws including the Sedition Act when it came into power last May, but in December, the Cabinet made a U-turn by lifting the moratorium.
Worse, said Lau, several individuals were arrested under the Sedition Act again despite the Pakatan government promising it would only use the Act on issues involving national security, public order and race relations.
He warned the U-turn and the arrests showed the Sedition Act and any new law to replace it could be abused by the government.
Lau noted that it was recently reported that the Human Rights Watch described as “profound disappointment” Pakatan’s reforms on human rights a year after coming into power.
“If the Pakatan government does repeal the Sedition Act, does Malaysia need new laws to restrict hate speech, given the existing Penal Code provisions that criminalise inciteful speech?
“We call on the Pakatan government to clarify it,” he added.
When contacted, Malaysian Representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights Eric Paulsen said there should not be a replacement law or new offences created as there are sufficient provisions in the Penal Code to deal with statements detrimental to public order.
“(The Act) is archaic, repressive and belongs in the dustbin of history together with other colonial-era laws,” he tweeted on Friday.
He added that it was a mark of shame for any independent nation to continue having colonial-era legislation like the Sedition Act, which was then used to suppress freedom fighters and civil liberties, and continue to do so after independence.
“While it is well established that freedom of speech is not absolute, the threshold must nonetheless be high. Any restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and provided by law for legitimate grounds,” he wrote in another tweet.