The recent arrest of three individuals by the police for allegedly insulting Sultan Muhammad V does not fall under the categories for which the Sedition Act should be used, says The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
It voiced concerned over the use of the Sedition Act to arrest the three individuals over their comments on social media deemed insulting to Sultan Muhammad V.
“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,” it said in a statement on Thursday (Jan 10).
It also urged the government to reimpose the moratorium on the Sedition Act and to abolish the Act without any delay to prevent future abuse.
It said doing so would be a symbolic act signifying that the Pakatan Harapan government was committed to the rule of law and would not rely on heavy-handed laws used by the previous government to silence critical and opposing voices.
“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 to internationally,” it said.
Meanwhile, civil group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) have condemned the use of the Sedition Act 1948 for the arrest of three people critical of the monarchy as tantamount to “mob rule”.
LFL voiced concern over situations where the authorities appear quick to react to “mobs” on social media demanding that action be taken on such posts.
“The authorities must be more discerning when reacting to viral messages on social media, especially if the alleged ‘insulting’ post has been exaggerated.
“To do so would be tantamount to mob rule,” LFL executive director Latheefa Koya said in a statement.
Latheefa said the role of the police was to maintain public order and prevent crimes, “not to be the arbiter of what is an acceptable speech or post on social media”.
“The police must be able to differentiate impolite or even ‘insulting’ remarks that are not criminal in nature.
“It should only be an offence if the remarks are threatening or incite violence or a crime,” she said, adding that such cases should be investigated under the Penal Code.
She noted Pakatan Harapan’s heavy opposition to the Sedition Act during its time in the opposition and questioned the continued use of the legislation in “Malaysia Baru”.
She said the use of the colonial-era law should not have happened under the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government as it was among the legislations the coalition promised to repeal if it won federal power.
“This legislation is a legacy of the British Empire and clearly has no place in Malaysia, all the more so in Malaysia Baru,” she said.
Latheefa described the arrests of the trio as resembling those under the previous ruling Barisan Nasional, which she said showed its “intolerance” towards freedom of speech.
She urged the authorities to stop such arrests and focus on curbing real crime cases.