Sedition Act replacement must not suppress free thought, Putrajaya told

Malaysian Bar president Chris Leong addressing the crowd at ‘Walk for Peace and Freedom’ event, October 16, 2014. Leong said the laws replacing the Sedition Act should remove elements that restrict free speech and thought while still protecting the royalty from insults. ― Picture by Yiswaree Palansamy
Malaysian Bar president Chris Leong addressing the crowd at ‘Walk for Peace and Freedom’ event, October 16, 2014. Leong said the laws replacing the Sedition Act should remove elements that restrict free speech and thought while still protecting the royalty from insults. ― Picture by Yiswaree Palansamy

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — The laws replacing the Sedition Act should remove elements that restrict free speech and thought while still protecting the royalty from insults, the Bar Council recommended to Putrajaya today.

Following a historic lawyers’ march pressing for the repeal of the colonial era law today, Bar Council president Christopher Leong said the new law or laws must encourage and promote interaction, and the open exchange of ideas.

“Then there should be another Act to ensure that in that public space and in that dialogue, nobody will be intimidated or threatened, nobody would be put in fear for merely having a thought and expressing a thought,” he told reporters after leading a peaceful walk today.

Leong said that it was crucial for the Sedition Act’s replacement to be very narrow in scope and that it should only criminalise any incitement, threats or acts of racial and religious violence, so that the law is confined to those elements alone.

The Sedition Act currently outlaws speech that is deemed to “excite disaffection” towards the government, but its broad terms allow the law to be applied to virtually all forms of dissent.

“It should also contain a provision whereby it will be deemed offensive to bring hatred to the royal institution.

“These are the elements which the replacement Act should bear,” Leong added.

He said the Bar Council’s campaign against the Sedition Act will also continue, and called for the full commitment from the public to assist in the mission.

“You are not doing this just for yourself, but your family, the person on your left, right, front and behind... for everyone,” he added.

Lawyers took to the streets today to urge Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to honour his two-year-old pledge to repeal the Sedition Act 1948 ― a repressive law seen as stifling freedom of speech here.

An estimated crowd numbering more than 1,000 ― mostly lawyers ― had marched in a peaceful and orderly manner this morning from the Padang Merbok car park.

Leong estimated that around 1,500 to 2,000 lawyers turned up for the march today.

Today’s march is just the fourth in the Malaysian Bar Council’s 67-year history.

Putrajaya has repeatedly insisted it will repeal the Sedition Act, but increased its use of the law to hitherto unseen levels since first making the pledge.

In just nine months this year, 12 cases have been prosecuted under the Sedition Act ― the highest figure since 2009 ― raising alarm in civil society of Putrajaya’s perceived clampdown on dissent.

Related Articles