Disagreeing with Zahid, civil rights group says cross protest not seditious

LFL executive director Eric Paulsen says the Taman Medan church protest does not warrant any probe or charge under the Sedition Act 1948. ― File pic
LFL executive director Eric Paulsen says the Taman Medan church protest does not warrant any probe or charge under the Sedition Act 1948. ― File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 ― The Taman Medan protest may have been a clear act of bullying and intimidation but it did not warrant any probe or charge under the Sedition Act 1948, civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said today.

LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said the group maintains that a moratorium should be imposed on all further sedition investigations and prosecutions as the colonial-era Act, long described as draconian by civil rights groups and the opposition, should be abolished.

“As such we do not support the calls for the protesters to be charged under the Sedition Act as there are sufficient provisions in the Penal Code to deal with such mischief, offences that are more in line with the demands of democracy and fundamental rights instead of the outdated Sedition Act,” he said in a statement here.

Paulsen, a known lawyer and rights activist, is a victim of the Sedition Act himself, having been arrested twice this year for separate investigations under the law. In February, the lawyer pleaded not guilty to a sedition charge over his criticism of the Muslim Friday sermons.

On Sunday, a group of about 50 Malay-Muslim residents of Taman Medan staged a protest outside a new church in their neighbourhood, claiming its open display of a cross on its facade could influence the young.

The protest, which saw the arrival of the police later and the involvement of Umno branch leader Datuk Abdullah Abu Bakar, the brother of Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, as mediator, later ended with the church removing the cross.

Yesterday, IGP Khalid cleared the protestors of wrongdoing, claiming there was no criminal element in their actions.

But shortly after, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi contradicted the IGP, saying the protest had been seditious and will be investigated.

He was joined by several other leaders, including those from the opposition and those in east Malaysia, who said the police should investigate the incident or risk being seen as biased.

Paulsen, however, stressed that a better way of handling the sensitive incident is via dialogue, public criticism and pressure.

He said the protestors should be brought to book if they had committed any clear criminal offence such as threatening to harm the church or its members.

However, Paulsen added, the LFL maintains that every citizen enjoys the right to protest and assemble peacefully.

“While we abhor the protesters’ provocative, intimidating and bullying behaviour, we urge caution in turning every religiously tinged protest into a criminal matter,” said the activist.

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