SEPTEMBER 7 — The recent spate of illogical arrests for alleged sedition has confused many of us. It seems that any simple statement can be viewed as sedition and seems to depend on personal interpretation. In view of this can we suggest that the authorities circulate guidelines as to what constitutes sedition from their point of view.
To aid us some examples are listed below. Which of these would be considered seditious? Please enlighten us so we can be careful not to upset the sensitivities of the government. Please note that we are just quoting what has been said by others or reported in media and in no way are uttering these potentially seditious comments.
Example 1: Describing our national football team as duds?
Many Malaysians have attested to this and it is supported by the extremely poor performance of the team. Most of us just want a good football team we can be proud of, and feel that speaking out would be constructive. But it can be construed that criticising the team is an affront to our national pride of “Malaysia Boleh” and may “raise discontent or disaffection amongst the … inhabitants of Malaysia” as stated under the Sedition Act 1948.
Example 2: Calling non-Malays “pendatang”?
This horrible phrase “pendatang” was made popular by Tun Dr Mahathir in his book The Malay Dilemma. It has been uttered ad nauseam (“so many times we want to vomit”) by many government leaders and widely recorded. But is deemed not seditious by the authorities and no one has been ever arrested. We find this confusing because it clearly falls under the Sedition Act 1948 which states “…to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia”. In addition our esteemed Prime Minister has been reported in the press (24th June 2012) that “Malaysian Chinese are not ‘pendatang (immigrants)’ and those who labelled the community as such were ‘lunatics’”. So if we do not want to charge these ministers and NGO leaders under the Sedition Act, let us at least commit them to a mental institution.
Example 3: Suggesting that civil service has institutionalised corruption?
We all know that corruption is an enormous problem in Malaysia. Our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has included reducing corruption as one of the most important in the six National Key Result Areas (NKRA). A survey by Ernst & Young in 2013 has found that Malaysia (together with China) has the highest levels of bribery and corruption anywhere in the world. Our Auditor General each year has published horrific stories of corruption in the civil service. So as tax payers can we question this issue or will it be viewed as seditious i.e. “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against (the) Government” or “to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established”? Can pointing out possible criminal behaviour, by any Malaysian, ever be considered seditious?
Example 4: Calling our PM a liar and going against his directives and wishes?
Our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has repeatedly stated that the Sedition Act 1948 will be replaced. This was first reported on 11th July 2012 and repeated again on 5th September 2014. He has also kept his promise to repeal the Internal Security Act. Yet his own ministers are insisting that he did not say this and are saying they want a return of the ISA. Are they being seditious by contravening the Sedition Act “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against (the) Government”?
Example 5: Making an Ah Beng joke about our PM?
Finally what about jokes? We all crack jokes and we have heard our fair share about government figures. Datuk Lat always used to exaggerate Tun Dr Mahathir’s nose with great effects, Dato’ Seri Samy Vellu always left us in stitches and the hairstyle of a VIP’s wife offers opportunities to graphic cartoonists. However we learnt a lot from the Queen of England when we were in the UK. Occasionally negative comments or jokes (graphic or written) are made about her, even quoted in the press. She never responds or acknowledges them, and so they die out and are dismissed.
We recently heard a hilarious, but innocent, Ah Beng joke about our PM. Is this seditious?
We could continue on issues related to religion, class differences, corruption, royalty and special rights but the message is clear. We share these so that clarity can come to this current crisis. Like our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib, we know that the Sedition Act 1948 is an archaic and repressive legislation. It has no place in a democratic and progressive Malaysia.
Yes there is a need to watch what we say and write. To respect everyone, especially in areas of religion and ethnic/cultural differences. But any legislation used to curb these excesses must be uniform and used with sensibility. Sometimes what is said it is just plain stupidity and an apology or ignoring it will do. Others who are repetitive or have an agenda of hatred need to be curbed. Our Prime Minister has already empathically stated that the Act will be removed. Can we suggest the authorities listen to him and not use this outdated and offensive legislation. The continued selective use of it damages our nation. We need to stop the world laughing at Malaysians, yet again, and regain our dignity and basic human rights.
*Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS and Datin Dr Lim Swee Im read The Malay Mail Online
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.