Malaysia’s Sedition Act to be Expanded to Avoid ‘Trouble and Chaos’


2015.03.12
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MY-sedition-amend-620-March2015 Malaysian lawyers rally for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 16, 2014.
AFP

Malaysia’s government will propose amendments to the 1948 Sedition Act during the current Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) session, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Thursday.

The purpose is to help protect the sanctity of Islam and other religions, and to act against those calling for secession of the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, he said.

Without the change to the law, “trouble and chaos” could ensue and an irresponsible few who dare to insult Islam could destroy the country, Zahid, who is also vice president of Malaysia’s ruling United Malays National Organization (Umno) party, warned during his monthly ministerial address, the Malay Mail reported.

“As long as I am home minister, I will ensure this amended law, the Sedition Act, will defend the position of Islam, the rulers, and Malays under my responsibility,” he said.

Referring to a recent controversy about a stray-dog adoption program in Penang state, where a Muslim woman was pictured holding a puppy, Zahid said such an event would not have happened before the spread of liberalism, which had now reached an “extreme” point.

Opposition lawmakers, social activists and some NGOs have repeatedly called for the repeal to be repealed, arguing that it has been used to curtail freedom of speech and stifle dissent.

Several individuals, including a University of Malaya law professor, have been hauled up for having committed various “offenses” under the current act’s provisions.

Unsuccessful bid for moderation

In his bid for reform and moderation, Prime Minister Najib Razak had pledged in June 2012 to abolish the Sedition Act, which was originally introduced by the British in 1948 to deal with communist insurgents.

He proposed that it be replaced by a National Unity Act, the provisions of which would be fleshed out by a National Unity Consultative Council.

However, he faced opposition and dissent from his own party members and hard-line Malay NGOs.

Even a former chief justice, Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, said that abolishing the Act in its entirety would be a mistake.

It would pave the way for Malaysians to insult and question the position of the Malays, the rulers, Islam and the Malay language, the Malaysian Insider had quoted Hamid as saying.

Hamid, however, also noted that a clause in the Sedition Act, which makes it an offense for Malaysians “to bring into hatred or contempt or excite dissatisfaction” against the government, was undemocratic.

“If the government wants to make amendments that may gain the support of others, it should consider the sedition offense against the government. Right now, even committing sedition against the government is wrong. But this is not in line with democracy,” he had said.

Eventually, at the Umno General Assembly last November, Najib announced that the act would be retained and strengthened with two extra provisions: one prohibiting insults against all religions, and the other prohibiting talks of Sabah and Sarawak seceding from Malaysia, the Malay Mail reported.

The Sedition Act has been amended five times, the last time being in 1975.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.

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