Sedition blitz a cloud over Merdeka, polls watchdog laments

Malaysians hold national flags during a rally to celebrate the country's 55th Independence Day in Bukit Jalil Stadium, some 20 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur on August 31, 2012. – AFP pic
Malaysians hold national flags during a rally to celebrate the country's 55th Independence Day in Bukit Jalil Stadium, some 20 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur on August 31, 2012. – AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 — Putrajaya’s ongoing sedition dragnet was a “dismaying” indicator that Malaysia remained far from “true independence”, electoral reforms group Bersih said on the eve of Merdeka today.

The coalition pointed out that while Merdeka Day should be a celebration of Malaysia’s development as a sovereign nation, the government’s decision to pursue action using the colonial era Sedition Act instead meant a regression of civil liberties in the country.

“The recent slew of sedition charges is a slap in the face of the progressive democratic nation we are aspiring to be. The Sedition Act is an archaic law enacted by our former colonisers for the purpose of suppressing us and preventing us from being our own masters.

“It is highly ironic that the progeny of our Merdeka forebears continue to use the law for the same purpose on fellow citizens!” Bersih said in a statement today.

Putrajaya has this year increased its use of the Sedition Act, primarily against opposition lawmakers and in a widening array of circumstances, prompting questions over the sincerity of the promise it made in 2012 to repeal the archaic law.

The government was forced today to deny that the recent spate of sedition investigations and prosecutions were selectively targeted, insisting that it did not control the judiciary while reiterating its commitment to abolish the law.

Four opposition MPs were either investigated or indicted under the Sedition Act this week over a variety of alleged offences, while a schoolboy is also the subject of a probe under the same law for “liking” a pro-Israel Facebook page.

Beyond criticising the continued use of the Sedition Act, Bersih also noted other laws that it said were incongruous with the move to allow Malaysians greater freedoms.

The local media remained under the yoke of the government, the group said, pointing to the retention of “overhanging repressive laws” such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and newer laws that include the Communications and Multimedia Act.

It noted that freedom of association was also “fragile,” citing the Home Ministry’s ability to declare groups such as the polls watchdog and the newly formed Negara-Ku movement illegal.

But the coalition lauded what it said were “signs of independence in the judiciary that affirm our constitutionally guaranteed rights, especially pertaining to freedom of expression, are heartening and most welcome”.

“However, we cannot afford to be complacent. What was won yesterday may be lost today and indeed has been demonstrated so,” it cautioned.

Malaysia celebrates its 57th Merdeka Day tomorrow.