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Malaysian government urged to uphold election commitment by repealing sedition law

A Malaysian lawyer holds a placard outside the Parliament house during a rally to repeal the Sedition Act, in Kuala Lumpur, 16 October 2014
A Malaysian lawyer holds a placard outside the Parliament house during a rally to repeal the Sedition Act, in Kuala Lumpur, 16 October 2014

MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

The following statements were originally published on CIJ's Facebook page.

No new repression, uphold election commitments

The Centre for Independent Journalism is appalled that the government is discussing new legislation to further restrict legitimate free speech. In its election manifesto, the Pakatan Harapan coalition promised to repeal legislation that curtailed freedom of expression, and to make Malaysia's human rights record respected internationally. This isn't going to happen unless Malaysians are able to freely discuss the monarchy, including its role in the country and its future.

Restrictions to freedom of expression should be in line with internationally respected norms, should be narrow and should be primarily aimed at ensuring other fundamental liberties are not restricted. Examples would be to protect vulnerable minorities and to prevent violence. The monarchy in Malaysia is not a vulnerable institution, but a key part of the State, and does not require protecting against people making mere comments.

CIJ urges the Pakatan Harapan government to restate in clear terms their commitment to upholding human rights and the rule of law through actions including reinstating the moratorium on the Sedition Act, prior to its repeal in the next Parliamentary sitting; repealing the odious Printing Presses and Publications Act; reforming the Communications and Multimedia Act to put the information needs of the people before the needs of business; and to enact a Freedom of Information Act in line with international best practice.

Repeal Sedition Act, halt investigations

The Centre for Independent Journalism is concerned over the use of the Sedition Act to arrest three individuals for posting comments on social media "deemed insulting" to Sultan Muhammad V following his resignation as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

CIJ recalls that when the government lifted the moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo stated that its use would be reserved for issues involving national security, public order and race relations.

CIJ disagrees with the lifting of the moratorium and states that in any event, the recent arrests do not fall within the above categories as set out by the minister. Comments that are insulting but are not a threat to any of the above categories should not warrant arrest under the Sedition Act. These arrests demonstrate the problematic nature of lifting the moratorium on a broad-based law such as the Sedition Act. Although the Minister may have sought to limit the categories under which the Act could be used, this is clearly not being heeded by those on the ground. The questioning of civil society activist Sevan Doraisamy immediately following the lifting of the moratorium on the Sedition Act is another example of how these purported limits do not work in practice.

CIJ therefore calls on the government to reimpose the moratorium on the Sedition Act and to abolish the Sedition Act without delay to prevent any future abuse of this draconian colonial-era law. Doing so is an important symbolic act to signify that the Pakatan Harapan government is committed to the rule of law and will not rely on heavy-handed laws that were used by the previous government to silence critical and opposing voices. Further, the repeal of the Sedition Act was part of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, and its repeal is vital to upholding the promise to make Malaysia's human rights record respected internationally.

Halt Lokman Adam sedition investigation

The Centre for Independent Journalism is again calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act, a reinstatement of the moratorium and a halt into the investigation of Lokman Adam under the Act. The Pakatan Harapan government has repeatedly said that they would not use the Act to curb dissent, even after the moratorium was lifted, and yet repeatedly are using the Sedition Act to curb dissent. With the investigation of Lokman Adam under this Act, they demonstrate once again why it needs urgent repeal to prevent the Executive from being tempted to commit human rights violations.

The Pakatan Harapan government appears to be working to outstrip the previous regime in the number of freedom of expression violations it can commit. While the rhetoric of the new Ministers is in line with the election manifesto, the actions, particularly in terms of sedition investigations, do not reflect these commitments.

CIJ reminds the government that they were elected on the basis of a manifesto that promised the repeal of the Sedition Act; and which promised that the government would strive to make Malaysia's human rights record internationally respected. If they want to be taken seriously next time they make election promises, there needs to be a firm commitment on both these matters. We call for a halt into the investigation of Lokman Adam, and all others being investigated under the Sedition Act; a reinstatement of the moratorium; and repeal of this colonial law and its bedfellow the Printing Presses and Publications Act in the next Parliamentary sitting.

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