Coalition of NGOs demands reinstatement of moratorium on Sedition Act 1948 and its repeal

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We are appalled to hear that seven (7) Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR) #LAWAN activists are again hauled in for questioning at the Dang Wangi district police headquarters, and this time under the Sedition Act.

This year alone, between January to August, we have monitored at a minimum, 17 cases involving 37 individuals, human rights defenders and artists being investigated under this archaic and repressive law. The coming into power of the previous Perikatan Nasional government in March 2020 saw the continued use of the practice in which the Sedition Act, amongst other repressive laws, being weaponised to suppress critical debates and dissent in Malaysia.

Investigations against the #LAWAN activists and supporters are unwarranted, disproportionate, and demonstrate a persistent heavy-handed response to any form of expression that is critical of ruling powers. This only serves to prove the wide and arbitrary nature of the Sedition Act. In effect, its use is open to selective investigation, prosecution and abuse. This creates a chilling climate of fear hindering citizens from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression, signalling a government’s downward spiral into an authoritarian state. For these reasons, the Sedition Act is long overdue for repeal.

Human rights defenders play an important role in society, as they promote reform and good governance. In doing so, they create opportunities for debate and expression on shared values. Such a role should be defended as a vital part of public participation, to enable a robust civic discourse and healthy democracy through public scrutiny, criticism and exchange of opinions.

As repeatedly demanded, any restriction to the freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution must be legitimate, necessary and proportionate. Criminalising an expression on the basis that it is critical of the government of the day does not meet any of these criteria, and therefore contravenes the international human rights standards on freedom of expression. It bears repeating that Malaysia made a promise to repeal this law at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in 2013 and the UN General Assembly in 2018.

We call on the newly minted Perikatan National cabinet to show that the reform landscape in Malaysia is not dying, and they remain committed to good governance and accountability based on respect for universal human rights and freedom of expression, assembly and speech.

Therefore, we call on the Malaysian government to:

  1. DROP all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation and adverse actions against the #LAWAN organisers, supporters and other human rights defenders for legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression, speech, and assembly;
  2. Urgently REINSTATE the moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act and other repressive laws;
  3. REPEAL the Sedition Act, and;
  4. CEASE abuse of the legal system to harass, silence and obstruct individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression, speech and assembly.

It is incumbent on the current government to act now and not be complicit in allowing the human rights environment in Malaysia to deteriorate into a situation where human rights defenders and the general public operate within a climate of fear.

Media statement by CSO Platform for Reform Steering Committee.