KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 — Umno’s Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah rubbished a minister’s claims today that Putrajaya never promised to repeal the Sedition Act, pointing out that the prime minister had even made the pledge twice.
Saifuddin, who also heads the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), said Datuk Seri Najib Razak first announced on July 11, 2012 the government’s plan to repeal the colonial-era law and to replace it with the National Harmony Act.
The prime minister then repeated the promise on July 2, 2013, the former deputy minister recalled.
“Shahidan is totally wrong,” Saifuddin told Malay Mail Online today, referring to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim.
News portal The Malaysian Insider reported Shahidan today as saying that the prime minister never promised to abolish the Sedition Act, but merely to review it.
“The government must repeal it as soon as possible or people will see the government as not honouring its promise. The recent escalation of the charges under the Act looks like the government is cracking down on dissent,” Saifuddin said.
The Umno member also said the ongoing sedition crackdown contradicts the Najib administration’s political reforms that were undertaken before the 13th general election last year, such as the abolition of laws that allow for detention without trial like the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance, besides allowing student participation in politics by amending the University and University Colleges Act 1971.
A search of old news reports for Najib’s past remarks on the Sedition Act showed the prime minister did say the law would soon be repealed.
According to a video of Najib’s speech at the July 2012 Attorney-General’s Chambers dinner, the prime minister said: “The government has decided to abolish the Sedition Act 1948 and replace it with a new bill known as the National Harmony Act.”
“The decision to repeal the Sedition Act was made because we wanted to find a mechanism to determine the best balance between the need to ensure freedom of speech for all citizens in accordance with the Federal Constitution, and the need to respect the diversities that exist in the country,” he said in the video that was uploaded on Najib’s YouTube page.
A year later in July 2013, the prime minister reportedly told British broadcaster BBC’s World News programme that the repeal of the Sedition Act was “coming”, pointing out that Putrajaya had already abolished the ISA and the Emergency Ordinance.
The Prime Minister’s Office also said in a statement on August 30 this year that the “Sedition Act will be replaced by the National Harmony Bill”.
The government spokesman also said the drafting of the new law will take some time as it is being worked on together with civil society and the public.
“The government welcomes feedback from all sections of society, and hopes to present the draft Bill to Parliament by the end of next year,” the spokesman said.
The National Unity and Consultative Council (NUCC), which is an independent body under the purview of the National Unity and Integration Department, has proposed three laws to replace the Sedition Act.
Malay Mail Online could not reach de facto law minister Nancy Shukri for comment at the time of writing.
The Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee yesterday launched a campaign to repeal the Sedition Act amid the government crackdown that has claimed opposition lawmakers, a law professor, a teenager and a journalist.