Minister: Can use other laws besides Sedition Act for slurs against royals

Liew said it is ultimately up to the attorney general to decide what law those who insult the royalty are charged under. — Picture by Yusof Mat isa
Liew said it is ultimately up to the attorney general to decide what law those who insult the royalty are charged under. — Picture by Yusof Mat isa

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 10 — The Sedition Act 1948 need not be used against three people arrested over online insults against the royalty as there are enough alternative laws, Datuk Liew Vui Keong said.

However, the legal affairs minister said it is ultimately up to the attorney general (AG) to decide what law they will be charged under.

“In fact, there are sufficient laws under the Penal Code to deal with them. We don’t necessarily have to revisit the Sedition Act to deal with them,” he told reporters here.

“This will be in the hands of the AG, because the AG is the one who will decide whether to prosecute them under which particular section, which particular law.

“The AG is the prosecutor so they will decide. I’m sure the AG will come out with the appropriate law to deal with these offenders,” he added.

Liew was asked if there were other Acts that could be used against the trio.

On Tuesday, police arrested two men and one woman over their social media remarks that were deemed insulting to Sultan Muhammad V after the Kelantan Ruler abdicated as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Sunday.

Police are investigating the three cases under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948.

The trio arrested are Eric Liew Chee Ling, 46, who uses the Facebook account name Eric Liew; 27-year-old Azham Akhtar Abdullah who uses the @azhamakhtar Twitter handle; and Nur Alia Astaman, 26, who made postings through her @aliaastaman Twitter handle.

The use of the Sedition Act to arrest and investigate the trio have since then been condemned by civil society, as the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition had promised in its election manifesto to repeal the law.

Lawyers Syahredzan Johan and Farhan Haziq Mohamed had argued that the colonial-era law was repressive and imposes disproportionate restrictions on constitutional freedoms, suggesting that other laws be used to probe the trio.

Syahredzan is political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang while Farhan is Subang DAP Youth chief.

Both said the government’s use of the Sedition Act should only be for exceptional cases involving national security, public order and race relations, and that the trio’s remarks did not fall into any of those categories.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya earlier today similarly said the use of the colonial-era law should not have happened under the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government as it was among the legislations the coalition had heavily opposed and promised to repeal if it won federal power.

Liew today also told reporters that the fate of the Sedition Act— including whether it would be repealed or amended — would depend on the views by the Home Ministry which has purview over the law.

Liew said he would be obtaining the ministry’s views on this law in an upcoming meeting.