KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 27 — Troubled by Malaysia’s plan to strengthen the Sedition Act despite criticisms over its arbitrary use on anti-government dissidents, Canada has urged Putrajaya to ensure the controversial legislation is not abused for selective prosecution.
In a statement in Ottawa, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird took note of reports on the series of arrests here under the Sedition Act, and said the Malaysian government should not wield the law undemocratically to silence its critics.
“Freedom of expression is essential to any democracy, and we look forward to seeing progress on this issue,” Baird said.
“Canada values its long-standing and warm relationship with Malaysia and the Malaysian people, and we will continue to work together in pursuit of freedom, prosperity and security,” he added.
Malaysia has been heavily criticised for abusing the justice system to clamp down on free speech, particularly on the use of the Sedition Act against those critical of the government.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had initially pledged to repeal the problematic law in 2012.
But Najib announced last year that the Act will be strengthened instead through a number of amendments, which is slated tabled during the March opening of Parliament this year.
Last year, a total of 23 individuals — mostly made up of anti-government dissidents and opposition politicians as well as two academics and a journalist — were investigated and prosecuted under the Sedition Act. Many of the cases also involved alleged insults against Islam and the royalty.
On January 12, Eric Paulsen, co-founder of human rights group Lawyers for Liberty, was arrested under the Act over his alleged tweet that accused the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) of promoting extremism through Friday sermons.
Paulsen was released on police bail after a two-day remand.