Haris Ibrahim a ‘prisoner of conscience’, global rights watchdog says after sedition conviction

Amnesty International has condemned the sedition conviction of activist Haris Ibrahim (pictured). — File pic
Amnesty International has condemned the sedition conviction of activist Haris Ibrahim (pictured). — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Amnesty International condemned today the sedition conviction of activist Haris Ibrahim over a three-year-old speech calling for a government change in Putrajaya.

The global human rights advocacy group also said it would consider the 57-year-old father of two a “prisoner of conscience” if he were imprisoned, a sentence the court has stayed pending his appeal.

“Today’s conviction of human rights activist Haris Ibrahim is the latest travesty in a series of politically motivated actions to silence dissent in Malaysia,” Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia director of campaigns, Josef Benedict said in a statement.

He urged the federal government to stop prosecuting dissenters who advocate governmental and electoral change peacefully and to repeal the Sedition Act 1948.

“This case demonstrates the importance of repealing Malaysia’s Sedition Act, a repressive law that has been used with impunity against government critics.

“Such laws have no place in a modern, rights-respecting society,” Benedict added.

He also urged the government to revoke all other sedition convictions and replace the colonial-era law with greater protections of its citizens’ right to peaceful assembly, association and free speech.

Amnesty International noted a near fivefold increase in the number of sedition cases last year compared to the first 50 years since the Sedition Act was introduced.

At least 91 people were arrested, charged or investigated in 2015, it said.

This morning, the Sessions Court pronounced Haris guilty of sedition for his speech on May 13, 2013, judging it to be inciting the public to change the government through unlawful means.

The court sentenced him to eight months behind bars, but stayed the execution pending an appeal to the High Court.

Charged under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act, Haris nevertheless escaped the maximum penalty of RM5,000 and a maximum three-year jail term as the judge noted it was his first offence.