To Manage Freedoms Sedition Act Must Go




A few days ago, social media was abuzz with news that the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah had deactivated her Twitter account @cheminahsayang
It was speculated that the reason for her Twitter deactivation were toxic comments and cyberbullying from certain Twitter users. It must be noted that the Raja Permaisuri herself did not make any statement at that time about why she left Twitter
Some overzealous netizens then started to identify the alleged perpetrators who had caused Tunku Azizah to deactivate @cheminahsayang. Police reports were lodged against several individuals
As a result of these reports, the police, as they usually do, opened investigation papers, including under the Sedition Act. On Sept 13, 2019, it was reported that one individual was arrested under the Sedition Act for alleged insults against the royal family
Our Sedition Act 1948 is a colonial vestige. It was enacted before the Federation of Malaya achieved independence and it was largely used by the British to deal with militant communist insurgents at the time.This law criminalises ‘sedition’ by making it an offence to do anything which has a ‘seditious tendency’ or to utter any seditious words. ‘Seditious’ is defined as any act, speech, word, publication or other things that have a ‘seditious tendency’
The list of what can constitute ‘seditious tendency’ is wide. Almost anything can and would have a ‘seditious tendency’, by the act’s definition. Any criticism of the government would be seditious. Any comment made that can raise ill-will and hostility within the population would also be considered as seditious. What is said or done may even be justified, yet would still fall foul of the act
This restriction on free speech does not uphold the spirit of democracy which forms the basis of our country’s constitutional framework. Freedom of speech and expression is protected by the Federal Constitution, and the interpretation of the law, as it currently stands, is that any form of restriction placed by the state on fundamental liberties must be reasonable and proportionate
It is a known fact that Pakatan Harapan, in its manifesto, has pledged to repeal the Sedition Act. The government has also repeatedly stated that it intends to abolish this draconian law. Yet until it is done, this law is legally binding and enforceable
Thankfully, the Raja Permaisuri has activated her Twitter account to let the people know that she did not leave the platform because of those comments, but due to personal reasons
She did, however, express her displeasure with the police action against those who have been arrested. She even reminded us that this is a ‘free country’
The remarks by Tunku Azizah are most welcome. Our society is now grappling with how to manage the freer environment accorded by a more tolerant government. Statements such as these will go a long way to assist the process of managing these freedoms, without the need for state intervention
Yet that process will never be able to take place effectively if we still have the Sedition Act in our statute books. The default position that some will take will be to ask for the law to intervene and for the state to manage those freedoms for us
That is not to say that hate speech should be allowed to be spread freely. But we can clearly draw the line between what is ‘hate speech’ and what is merely ‘offensive’
The government should repeal the Sedition Act sooner than later
SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang. - Mkini

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