KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — Critics of Putrajaya’s proposed amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 claim the changes would not only criminalise calls for Sabah and Sarawak’s secession from Malaysia but may also be abused to punish those seeking more rights for the east Malaysian states.
Once the revisions to the Act are approved and gazetted by both houses of Parliament, analysts and lawmakers alike fear that authorities may choose to interpret any demand for greater autonomy in east Malaysia as prompting secession.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah senior anthropology lecturer Dr Paul Porodong stressed that it should not be considered secession for east Malaysians to call for a review of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 — the treaty upon which Malaysian federation was founded — press for greater state autonomy, or to demand more oil royalties.
“My worry is they’ll lump everything into secession and silence the voice of the people,” Porodong told Malay Mail Online.
“Autonomy and secession are two different things. If there's a request to increase autonomy, that shouldn’t be interpreted as secession,” he added.
He noted that demands for increased autonomy for Sabah, for example, include removing interference from Putrajaya on the appointment of the Sabah chief minister, or giving top posts in federal departments in the state to Sabahans and Sarawakians.
“If it's illegal for people to ask for secession, make sure it's illegal for anybody in Malaysia to ask anyone to go away from Malaysia, like saying ‘Cina pendatang, go back to China’ or ‘pendatang India, go back to India’,” said Porodong.
Four volunteers with the outlawed Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia (SSKM) movement were charged with sedition last month for possessing pamphlets allegedly propagating Sabah’s secession from the federation.
Local police are also hunting down a woman called “Doris Jones” for allegedly masterminding the Sabah and Sarawak secessionist movement.
The Sedition (Amendments) Bill 2015 tabled in the Dewan Rakyat seeks to amend Section 3(1)(b) of the principal Act to “make clear” that any call to demand secession for any states from Malaysia is seditious, although it admits that such demand is already seditious under the current definition.
The amendments also seeks to impose greater punishments for sedition crimes, such as jail terms between five and 20 years for acts that result in bodily harm or property damage, and between three and seven years for general crimes under the same law.
The colonial era law currently imposes a maximum three-year jail term or maximum RM5,000 fine on first time offenders, and a maximum five-year jail term for repeat offenders.
Penampang MP Darell Leiking from PKR said the amendments show the extent to which the Barisan Nasional (BN) government is willing to go to silence demands for more rights for Borneo states, when these rights are enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement and in the Federal Constitution.
“The Sedition Act amendment is aimed to deter Sabahans and Sarawakians from demanding their rights in MA63 and the Federal Constitution and I believe if passed, they will create fear by alleging every demand as secession!” Leiking told Malay Mail Online, using the initials for the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
“The demands by many of those who shout for leaving the federation is an accumulation of anger at the way Sabah and Sarawak had been relegated, or in the words of many BN MPs too, ‘dianaktirikan’,” the Sabah MP added.
Sarawak Association for Peoples’ Aspiration (SAPA) president Lina Soo told Malay Mail Online that the Sedition Bill violates the understanding of the formation of the Malaysian federation.
“It's against human rights. The right to self-determination is the inalienable right of people of territory. Nobody can decide for you. Self determination is enshrined in international law,” the NGO head said.
Dr Arnold Puyok, senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s faculty of social sciences, told Malay Mail Online that the “use of deterrent laws will be ineffective in the absence of meaningful engagement”.
Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act that critics claim have been used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but turned on its heel last year when it announced in November that the law will only be retained but expanded as well.