APRIL 9 — We are just five years away from our goal of becoming a developed nation by 2020.
Yet,in this day and age, we still have a law dating back from the colonial times guarding our speech and worse, the government is attempting to enhance punishments under the Sedition Act 1948.
People convicted of seditious speech can be imprisoned for up to 20 years under the proposed Sedition Act amendments, with a minimum jail term set at three years. No bail is allowed either.
Speech deemed to be seditious under the Sedition (Amendment) Bill 2015 involve issues of race and religion, secession, the rulers, and Bumiputera privileges, among others.
These are matters crucial to our democracy that Malaysians are prohibited from discussing freely.
The revised Sedition Act outlaws exciting “ill will, hostility or hatred” on grounds of race and religion, but such terms are extremely vague.
Would making a racist joke or satirising Jesus Christ be considered seditious? It would definitely offend some people, but to what extent do we interpret such offensiveness as creating “hostility”?
Race and religion, unfortunately, are so deeply institutionalised in Malaysia that it would take a miracle of sorts if we were to aim for developed nation status in five years’ time.
We have pro-Bumiputera economic policies although such policies were supposed to end decades ago, a dual legal system that has resulted in complex wrangles between the Shariah and civil courts, and now, attempts to introduce an Islamic criminal law that contradicts the Federal Constitution.
The problem is worsened when citizens are threatened with long jail terms for speaking about such issues.
When we question government policies that touch on race and religion, it will undoubtedly raise hackles among those who benefit from the status quo.
Will it generate “ill will”? For sure. Nobody likes losing power and privilege.
But if Malaysia really wants to join the ranks of developed countries like America, the UK or Australia, we must be open to discussing such issues that affect the administration of the country without the threat of imprisonment hanging over our heads.
On secession, Putrajaya would do well to follow the UK’s example in allowing Scotland to hold a referendum for independence. In the run-up to the poll last September, both sides were heard on key issues like oil and currency and Scotland finally voted to remain in the UK.
That’s what democracy is about.
Why do we need to use tyrannical force in retaining power, when such power can actually be kept through persuasive arguments and debate?
We must never forget that Malaysia is a democracy, not a dictatorship.
Sabah and Sarawak are territories in the Malaysian federation, each equal to the peninsula as a whole. Sabah and Sarawak residents surely have the right to discuss if they have been getting a fair deal in Malaysia and if independence will really benefit them.
On the rulers, suffice to say that we should remember Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy.
On Bumiputera privileges and the special position of the Malays, we should be allowed to discuss economic policies that affect ethnic minorities, especially since Malaysia is suffering from a brain drain.
There is no need for the Sedition Act, not when we want Malaysia to be a developed nation.
Developed nations provide space for dialogue and debate. Such discussions will inevitably anger some and probably lead to “hostility” or “hatred”, especially among people who have a stake in the issues that are being discussed.
But that’s what having a stand is about. We will feel strong emotions if others disagree with our stand.
The Sedition Act, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for real debates and discussions that people actually care about.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.