KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) reminded the Najib administration today to make good its promise to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the recent arrest and prosecution of lawmakers, students and today, an academic under the colonial-era law.
It urged the federal government to move with the times and replace the law criticised as draconian for quelling dissent with its proposed “National Harmony Act”, which Suhakam said would also safeguard the constitution rights of Malaysians to free speech.
“Such actions by the authorities are unwarranted and will continue to curtail the citizens’ right to freely debate issues or to express opinions that are vital in a vibrant democracy,” Suhakam said in a late-night statement following this morning’s prosecution of University of Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom.
The associate professor was booked for saying that the events during the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis were “legally wrong”.
The academic, who pleaded not guilty, was previously probed by the police for his quotes in a Malay Mail Online article published on August 14, titled, “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told”.
Azmi’s indiction sparked a flurry of criticism against the government from university students, Pakatan Rakyat politicians and civil society leaders who all decried the open heavy-handed action on a man voicing views at odds with the ruling regime.
“Power and discretion are conferred by legislation on the premise or presumption that they are to be exercised properly based on intelligence and common sense. It appears that neither of these criteria was present.
“It gives rise to the impression that the police are arbitrarily exercising their powers merely because they believe they can do so with impunity,” Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong said in a strongly-worded statement.
He was unsparing in his condemnation of the law thrown at Azmi, calling it “an abuse of power and process”.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said in a statement that he believed in academic freedom and maintained Azmi had the right to express his views.
Azmi’s charge follows a string of cases last week where opposition lawmakers were prosecuted for sedition.
They include PAS’ Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, PKR’s Padang Serai MP N. Surendran and DAP’s Seri Delima assemblyman RSN Rayer.
DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok and PKR’s Batu MP Chua Tian Chang are also undergoing trial for sedition.
Former Perak mentri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, who is also Changkat Jering assemblyman, was charged last week with defaming Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
PKR’s Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli, on the other hand, was recently charged with provoking Umno members.