KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 ― The Court of Appeal's landmark decision today on a provision in the Sedition Act is a “victory” for the protection of free speech in Malaysia, a lawyer said today.
Lawyer N. Surendran, who represented PKR's Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei in the successful constitutional challenge against a Sedition Act clause, said that the court decision bolsters Malaysians' right to freedom of speech.
“It's a great day for freedom of speech for all of us. It upholds and strengthens the right to free speech contained in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted today.
“It's a victory for freedom of speech and constitutionalism and rule of law,” he added.
Surendran said today's decision will affect all sedition cases in Malaysia ― whether ongoing or where convictions are being appealed ― as the prosecution must now prove the element of intent, which was previously not required to convict under the colonial-era law.
The Court of Appeal this morning unanimously ruled that the Sedition Act provision of Section 3(3) ― which states that intention of the person charged of sedition is “irrelevant” and it was enough to prove their remarks had seditious tendency ― is unconstitutional.
“We order that there be the following declaration: Section 3(3) of the Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15), contravenes Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and therefore is invalid and of no effect in law,” the judgment delivered by Datuk Varghese George Varughese said.
The three-man panel was chaired by Justice Datuk Lim Yee Lan and also included Justice Datuk Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal.
According to Surendran, the appellate court's ruling today does not mean that the ongoing criminal case against Shuhaimi under the Sedition Act will be automatically struck out.
“His case is part-heard in the Sessions Court, so in light of the Court of Appeal decision, we have to go to the Sessions Court and inform the court of the new decision, which means in his trial, the prosecution will have to prove the element of intention.
“So we will have to consider what steps to take because the trial is part-heard, we may apply to quash the charges,” he told Malay Mail Online.
The ongoing trial for Shuhaimi's sedition case under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act will resume on January 3 next year at the Shah Alam Sessions Court, Surendran said.
On February 7, 2011, Shuhaimi was charged in the Shah Alam Sessions Court with posting allegedly seditious material on his blog, with the Sri Muda state assemblyman’s blog posting purportedly made on December 30, 2010 and captioned “Pandangan saya berasaskan Undang-Undang Tubuh Kerajaan Negeri Selangor, 1959”.
Shuhaimi kept his Sri Muda state seat in Election 2013 with a whopping majority, but a sedition conviction could potentially disqualify him from holding office as a lawmaker.
First-time offenders under Sedition Act face a maximum three-year jail term or maximum fine of RM5,000 or both, with either a one-year jail term or a RM2,000 fine enough to make Shuhaimi lose his seat.