Suhakam: Pota, Sedition Act tweaks regressive

Suhakam vice-chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee speaks to the media at a press conference on current affairs, August 24, 2015. — Picture by Zurairi AR
Suhakam vice-chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee speaks to the media at a press conference on current affairs, August 24, 2015. — Picture by Zurairi AR

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — The National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) reiterated today its demand for the abolition of the Sedition Act 1948 on grounds that the law contravened freedom of speech.

The Commission, in its 2015 report, also called the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota) regressive, citing provisions of the law that allow for arbitrary detention without trial which Suhakam said violated one’s constitutional guarantee for a fair hearing.

“The commission in various settings has expressed its views on the use of the Sedition Act. The use of Sedition Act is unjustified as the authorities may seek recourse through other laws or legal remedies.

“The commission since its inception has continually urged and called upon the government to repeal the Sedition Act to give full meaning to citizens’ right to freedom of expression and speech as enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution,” the report said.

Suhakam said while it acknowledged the positives in the amendments made to the British colonial-inherited law, it maintained its position that the continued use of the Sedition Act was unjustified.

On Pota, Suhakam vice chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee described the anti-terrorism law as “a step forward and two steps backwards”.

“The recent enactment of Pota 2015 together with the existing two preventive laws negate and deny the rights of any persons detained under those laws to a free and fair trial,” the report said.

The two other preventive laws referred to in the report are the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures Act) 1985.

The Najib administration introduced Pota and strengthened the Sedition Act after the 2013 general election even as it announced political reforms that included the repeal of preventive laws prior to the polls.

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said the amendments to the Sedition Act and the introduction of Pota that there has been no genuine political reform.

“They repealed preventive laws but then it is reappearing in other new laws. It  appears as if there was reform but actually there is no reform,” he said at the unveiling of the report.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had prior to the 13th general election pledged to repeal the Sedition Act only to backtrack just months after.

The government later made amendments to the law to include more offences and give the police more power.

Dozens of opposition leaders, lawyers and activists critical of the federal government have been arrested and/or investigated for sedition since.

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