KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 27 — Putrajaya’s U-turn on its 2012 pledge to repeal the Sedition Act 1948 will see Malaysians dragged back to the “days of the ISA”, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim warned today, referring to the now-abolished Internal Security Act that has seen scores of anti-government dissidents thrown behind bars without trial over the years.
The Opposition Leader, who was once an ISA detainee himself, flayed Datuk Seri Najib Razak for deciding against repealing the Sedition Act, and said this was proof that the prime minister is unable to stick to his reform agenda.
He called the move a “regressive” one, and accused Najib of bowing to pressures from right-wing elements in ruling party Umno.
“This is his failure as a leader, as PM and as president of Umno.
“His weak leadership has resulted in him caving in to demands of the right-wingers of his own party,” Anwar told Malay Malay Online when contacted.
“This is a flip-flop, Najib reneged on his earlier promise.
“This will be a return to the days of the ISA (Internal Security Act),” the PKR de facto leader warned.
Najib today declared that the Sedition Act 1948 will continue to exist, in an about-turn from his earlier pledge to repeal the colonial era law.
In his policy speech at the start of the 65th Umno General Assembly, he said the decision was made after consultation with party leaders, NGOs and grassroots members.
“I listened to the suggestion by our deputy President (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin), from Wanita, Youth and Puteri (wings). I heard the motions, the concerns of the grassroots, views of NGOs.
“As Prime Minister, I have decided that the Sedition Act will be maintained,” Najib said to rousing applause from the over 2,700 delegates gathered at PWTC.
“At a time where Najib should be working towards unity in light of increasing (Islamic) militancy throughout the world, he is doing the exact opposite,” Anwar added.
As part of his administration’s raft of reforms, the prime minister had in 2012 pledged to do away with the Sedition Act and replace it with laws on national harmony.
But despite the pledge, Putrajaya has in recent months increased its use of the law to hitherto unseen levels.
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 the government’s perceived clampdown on dissent.
De facto law minister Nancy Shukri said last month that the Sedition Act could be complemented with new laws instead of being abolished as previously pledged by the Najib administration.
Umno leaders and many right-wing Malay groups have been fighting hard to convince the Najib government to retain the Act, even going as far as saying there is a need to tighten it further to include provisions that specifically prohibits individuals from insulting Islam, the Malay race and the rulers.
Earlier this month, the party’s Wanita wing launched a one million signatures campaign to petition the government against repealing the law.
The signature drive by the Umno wing follows other similar calls from the anchor party in the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition for the government to desist from dismantling the law that has been used mainly on its political foes.
The Malaysian Bar held a mass protest against the Sedition Act last month and said the laws replacing the Sedition Act should remove elements that restrict free speech, while still protect the royalty from insults.