The story behind the Sedition Act — Surendra Ananth

MARCH 24 — Much has been said about the Sedition Act 1948 (the “Act”) and its background.  Discussion on the Act has become ever more vibrant in light of its proliferated usage recently. It is important that the public knows how the Act came about and how it has evolved over the years. The following information is based on documents obtained from the National Archives of Malaysia and the United Kingdom.

1. The Federation of Malaya Agreement (“FMA”) was entered into on 21.01.1948.

In essence, the Federation of Malaya (the “Federation”) united the Federated Malay States, Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Terengganu and the Strait Settlements. The executive authority was vested in the High Commissioner and the Federal Executive Council (“Executive Council”). The legislative authority was vested in the Federal Legislative Council (“Legislative Council”) which was headed by the High Commissioner.

The Sedition Ordinance 1948 (the “Ordinance”)

2. On 10.06.1948, the Attorney-General, E.P.S. Bell, submitted a draft Sedition Bill  (“Draft Bill”) to the Chief Secretary, H.P. Bryson. His reasons were stated in a telegram as follows, “His Excellency was anxious for a Bill to unify the law relating to sedition and I submit a draft herewith”.  The Draft Bill essentially was a reproduction of the various Sedition Enactments and Ordinances in each State with a few new provisions.

3. On 12.06.1948, in an emergency meeting, the Draft Bill was considered and approved by the Federal Executive Council to be introduced in the Legislative Council on 05.06.1948.  An Emergency Ordinance Bill (“Emergency Bill”) was also discussed in the same meeting.

4. On 16.06.1948, the High Commissioner declared a state of emergency in certain areas of Perak and Johor. This proclamation was extended to the whole of the Federation on 18.06.1948 pursuant to the British Military Administration Proclamation (Essential Regulations) Ordinance. The emergency was declared due to the increase of communist attacks in the Federation.

5. The Emergency Bill was passed in the Legislative Council on 05.06.1948 and came into force as the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 on 07.07.1948 (“Emergency Ordinance 1948”).

6. On 06.06.1948, the Sedition Bill (the “Bill”) was tabled in the Legislative Council.

Before the Bill was read, the Standing Rules and Orders of the Legislative  Council were suspended pursuant to Rule 121 of the same to enable the Bill to be taken through all its stages in the proceedings. The Bill was eventually passed

7. On 12.07.1948, the High Commissioner made an emergency proclamation pursuant to Section 3 of the Emergency Ordinance 1948 which applied to the whole of the Federation. The Sedition Bill came into force as the Sedition Ordinance on 19.07.1948.

The Ordinance after Independence

8. All the modifications and amendments discussed below can be viewed here -http://surendraananth.blogspot.com/2015/03/modifications-and-amendments-

9. On 13.11.1958, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (“YDPA”) made an order cited as the Federal Constitution (Modification of Laws) (Ordinances and Proclamations) Order 1958 (the “1958 Order”) pursuant to Article 162(4) of the Federal Constitution. The 1958 Order consisted of modifications which appeared to the YDPA to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of bringing the provisions of existing laws into accord with the provisions of the Constitution. The 1958 Order made certain modifications to the Ordinance.

10. On 28.05.1964, the YDPA made an order cited as the Modification of Laws (Sedition) (Extension and Modification) Order 1964 pursuant to Section 74 of the Malaysia Act which extended the application of the Ordinance to Sabah and Singapore. A similar order was made by the YDPA on 20.11.1969 to extend the application of the Ordinance to Sarawak.

11. The Ordinance was revised by the Commissioner of Law Revision to become the Sedition Act 1948 on 14.04.1970 pursuant to Section 6 of the Revision of Laws Act 1968. Minor substitutions and grammatical changes were also made.

12. On 15.05.1969, the YDPA made an emergency proclamation pursuant to Article 150 of the Federal Constitution. On 10.08.1970, the YDPA issued an ordinance entitled Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No.45 1970 (“Emergency Ordinance 1970”) pursuant to Article 150(2) of the Federal Constitution. The YDPA had amended the Sedition Act 1948 via the Emergency Ordinance 1970.

13. On 20.12.2011, the Senate passed a motion to annul the 1966, 1969 and 1977 Emergency Proclamations.

Many have said that the Ordinance was passed to combat communism. Although the Ordinance was not an emergency law, the timing of its inception and the fact that it was passed in a rush speaks for itself.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.