Sedition Act in alignment with ICERD hate speech requirement — Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy

OCTOBER 31 — Reference is made to our recent statement of 26 October 2018 titled No Rush to Ratify Treaties.

We refer also to the statement of the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Oganisations in the UPR Process (MACSA), of which we are a part, which in turn is dated 7 August 2018 styled MACSA Welcomes Strengthening of Anti-Hate Laws.

We remain firm on our view expressed in the former statement that any decision to ratify international human rights treaties, in particular the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), must be undertaken with utmost care and strive to strike the right balance between boldness and circumspection by first being preceded by rigorous study and evaluation.

However in the context of the ongoing debate on the ICERD, it must be pointed out that MACSA as a whole has per the latter statement earlier welcomed the strengthening of existing anti-hate laws based on the backdrop of the existing Sedition Act 1948, which is proposed to be repealed by the present government.

The  proposed repeal of this crucial law that has done much to safeguard the fundamental provisions of our Federal Constitution has been opposed not only by all members of MACSA, including us in CENTHRA, but also the Malay Rulers via the Conference of Rulers.

We observe that it is a core requirement of the ICERD that all state parties to that convention enact in the words of Article 4, “immediate and positive measures” to combat hate speech and hate crimes.

This our existing Sedition Act already does by defining any speech that promotes the feeling ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia as a seditious tendency under section 3(1)(e) of the same.

Based on the above, it is crystal clear that the Sedition Act 1948 in and of itself ipso facto implements the ICERD requirement against hate speech.

As such, any move to repeal the Sedition Act would certainly run afoul of our incoming ICERD obligations, should we proceed with the ratification of this international human rights treaty.

Proponents of ICERD ratification, who more often than not tend to hail from the same organisations and individuals who support the repeal of the Sedition Act, would do well to take note of this and accordingly rethink their opposition to the Act.

With the proposed laws that strengthen not just anti-racial but also anti-religious hatred provisions in the pipeline, the nexus between them, the Sedition Act 1948 and the ICERD requirement to outlaw hate speech cannot be more pronounced. We accordingly call upon these organisations and individuals to withdraw their opposition to the continued existence of the Sedition Act 1948 on our statute book.

This observation and consequent call by us in CENTHRA does not in any way affect our present stand that other aspects of the ICERD, such as its definition of racial discrimination and the exceptions therein, must be further meticulously reviewed in order to ensure compliance with Malaysia’s unique situation, culture, and legal structure.

We believe that is entirely possible that we can develop our own laws and regulations that will address the issues dealt with by the treaties, in a more effective way, and in a manner that better upholds Malaysia’s sovereignty, compared with the ratification of the ICERD and any other international human rights instrument.

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