The Malaysian Bar is concerned with the ongoing use of, and resort to, sedition laws by the authorities. This is in direct contradiction to the express recognition by the Government that the Sedition Act has long outlived its purpose, and undermines the explicit pledge by the Prime Minister in July 2012 to repeal this law.
The recent furore over the investigation of a 17-year-old student for allegedly having “liked” a Facebook page titled “I Love Israel” is a prime example of how inappropriate the Sedition Act is and how it can be abused. The continued existence of such a law warps the thinking of the authorities in addressing or dealing with issues in our society. They have a penchant to resort to the Sedition Act almost as an unthinking and knee-jerk reaction. It should be obvious that, irrespective of how many police reports or complaints may have been made with respect to this incident, any investigation pursuant to the Sedition Act is misconceived.
The reports this week of the sedition charge against a lawyer, N Surendran, for a press release he issued on 18 April 2014 entitled “Court of Appeal’s Fitnah 2 written judgement is flawed, defensive and insupportable”, provide further evidence of an unacceptable repudiation by the authorities of the Prime Minister’s promise.
Our judicial system is an open system where proceedings are transparent, public and accessible (save for chamber matters or matters heard in camera due to the special or vulnerable nature of the parties involved (such as children), and matters of national security). Judgments in such proceedings are pronounced in public and published, to ensure that justice is done, and seen to be done. Such proceedings are thus subject to public scrutiny, and judgments are subject to examination, dissection, discussion, debate, praise, dissent and criticism. This is an intrinsic and important aspect of our justice system, and serves in the development of our juridical thought and as a check-and-balance of our administration of justice.
The Malaysian Bar has long called for the abolition of the Sedition Act as being repressive, anachronistic and an affront to fundamental liberties.
The Sedition Act, as with its predecessor the Sedition Ordinance, was conceived and designed by a colonial government to stifle fundamental rights and liberties, oppress the rakyat and deny them democratic space. Its sole purpose was to suppress and persecute the citizenry. The Sedition Act has no place in our nation, which aspires to be a modern democratic society, and should be relegated to the dustbin of history. The Prime Minister’s pledge represented a clear admission and recognition by the Government that the Sedition Act was antiquated and obsolete.
The continued use of the Sedition Act in the probe with respect to the 17-year-old student and the charge against N Surendran embarrasses the Government in that it places the Government in an invidious position of being seriously questioned as to its sincerity in pursuing transformation and greater civil liberties through legislative reforms.
The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the authorities to stop the probe with respect to the 17-year-old student and to withdraw the charge against N Surendran. We urge them to respect the freedom of speech and assembly as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, and to resist the temptation to resort to archaic and oppressive legislation.