Sedition action against Penang teen, PKR rep defy repeal pledge, Putrajaya told

Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the continued use of the colonial era law in the investigation against the teenager who was accused of ‘liking’ a pro-Israel Facebook page, and N. Surendran for criticising a court decision, is an embarrassment to the current administration. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the continued use of the colonial era law in the investigation against the teenager who was accused of ‘liking’ a pro-Israel Facebook page, and N. Surendran for criticising a court decision, is an embarrassment to the current administration. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 ― The Malaysian Bar demanded today for authorities to withdraw action under the Sedition Act against a teenager in Penang and a PKR lawmaker, arguing that Putrajaya's plan to repeal the law proves it is obsolete.

Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the continued use of the colonial era law in the investigation against the teenager who was accused of “liking” a pro-Israel Facebook page, and N. Surendran for criticising a court decision, is an embarrassment to the current administration as it effectively undermines Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's 2012 pledge.

“It places the government in an invidious position of being seriously questioned as to its sincerity in pursuing transformation and greater civil liberties through legislative reforms,” the lawyer said.

“The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the authorities to stop the probe with respect to the 17-year-old student and to withdraw the charge against N. Surendran.

“We urge them to respect the freedom of speech and assembly as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, and to resist the temptation to resort to archaic and oppressive legislation,” Leong added.

He said the continued existence of the Sedition Act “warps” the thinking of the authorities when dealing with issues affecting society.

“They have a penchant to resort to the Sedition Act almost as an unthinking and knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

The youth in Penang is currently under investigation after his alleged Facebook “like” hit the social media network and sparked an uproar. Earlier today, it was reported that the two teachers who provoked the attacks against the youth have since apologised to the boy and his parents.

Surendran, who is PKR's MP for Padang Serai, was hauled to court yesterday to face a charge under the Sedition Act for purportedly criticising a Court of Appeal's ruling on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's Sodomy II case.

He was accused of committing the offence in a news release titled “Court of Appeal's Fitnah 2 Written Judgement is Flawed, Defensive & Insupportable”, that was issued to news portal Malaysiakini on April 18 this year.

But Leong point out that any court judgment that has been pronounced and published in public is subject to examination, discussion, debate and dissent.

“This is an intrinsic and important aspect of our justice system, and serves in the development of our juridical thought and as a check-and-balance of our administration of justice,” he said.

He repeated the Malaysian Bar's call for the abolition of the Sedition Act, saying it has no place in a nation that aspires to be a modern, democratic society.

The law, he added, should be relegated to the “dustbin of history”.

In 2012, Najib pledged to repeal the Sedition Act as part of the government's reforms to afford Malaysians greater civil liberties.

Putrajaya subsequently tasked the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) to draw up laws to replace the colonial era law.

In June this year, the NUCC unveiled three draft bills ―  Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill, National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill and National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill ― that it is proposing to take the place of the law it described as a leftover from British colonial rule.

But the council has met with increasing resistance over its proposals, which critics — mainly from the Malay-Muslim community — allege would undermine Bumiputera special privileges.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has also criticised the move to repeal the Act, arguing recently that this could lead to chaos in the country by opening the floodgates of attacks against the Malay rulers and turn Malaysia into a republic.

The former prime minister also reminded the government that it has already given up the Internal Security Act (ISA), another previously criticised security law, and would be left with nothing to muzzle the detractors of the Malay royalty if it also surrenders the Sedition Act.

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