Sedition Act: Malaysian Bar Calls for Return of Moratorium, Halt to Probes

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The Malaysian Bar has urged the government to reinstate the moratorium on the Sedition Act 1948 pending its repeal and for police to cease all investigations under the law.

Its president George Varughese said in a statement last night that the Bar was aghast that four persons have been detained under the Act in the first 11 days of the year for making allegedly offensive remarks on social media.

He said that while the Bar does not condone disrespect for the monarchy or accusations levied against the government without basis, it does not advocate the criminalisation of such behaviour under the Sedition Act.

“We remain steadfast in our position that the Sedition Act 1948 is an archaic and repressive law that must be repealed,” Varughese said.

“The Sedition Act 1948, as with its predecessor the Sedition Ordinance, was conceived and used as an instrument of oppression. It imposes an unreasonable and disproportionate restriction to the fundamental freedom of expression enshrined in the Federal Constitution. It is the antithesis of democracy, rule of law, justice and human rights.

“The Sedition Act 1948 is unacceptable and repugnant to the rule of law for the further reasons that it creates offences arising from an act, speech, words, publication or other thing that are defined as having “seditious tendencies” which are imprecise and without clear boundaries.”

The police had arrested three people on January 8 for insulting the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Muhammad V, and detained on January 11, a fourth individual who accused the government of covering up the death of a fireman after he was allegedly assaulted during the Seafield temple riot last November.

The Pakatan government had imposed a moratorium on laws that are said to be “oppressive” when it came into power last May but in December, the Cabinet lifted the moratorium on certain Acts, including the Sedition Act, but limit their use to exceptional cases involving national security, public order and race relations.

Varughese said the use of the Sedition Act in the arrests was justified on the premise that their remarks were “sensitive” and therefore, the act was necessary to ensure and maintain harmony, unity and public order.

However, he said the Bar believed that true respect and harmony cannot be attained by compulsion and penal sanctions, noting that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had announced on January 10 that the government would define what constitutes as insults to guide law enforcement in the use of the Sedition Act.

“The provision of a definition of what is insulting does not mitigate or alter the ‘oppressive’ and ‘tyrannical’ nature of the Sedition Act 1948 – words that the Government itself had used to describe the Sedition Act 1948, in its election manifesto for the 14th General Election in May 2018,” Varughese said.

The arrests of the four under the Sedition Act have been met with criticism from politicians as well as non-governmental organisations since Pakatan Harapan had promised to abolish the law in its election manifesto last year. – MMO