Follow Singapore in controlling dissent, Malay group says amid Sedition Act changes

Abdul Rani argued that Singapore's strict control on dissent ensured the island state remain peaceful, and urged Malaysia to follow suit. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Abdul Rani argued that Singapore's strict control on dissent ensured the island state remain peaceful, and urged Malaysia to follow suit. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 9 — Putrajaya should emulate Singapore in imposing strict laws on free speech, a Malay group said in disagreeing with the proposal to decriminalise criticism of the government via amendments to the Sedition Act 1948.

Pointing to the case of 16 year-old Amos Yee who was arrested for criticising Singapore founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in an online video, Martabat Jalinan Muhibbah Malaysia (MJMM) chief Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah said the allowing dissent could open the floodgates of seditious accusations against the government.

He further argued that Singapore's strict control on dissent ensured the island state remain peaceful, and urged Malaysia to follow suit.

"If you do that, you will create this environment where anyone can just criticise the government. And this criticism may not be true but people can get influenced.

"If that happens then there will be anarchy... look at how they arrested that kid. That's good. That's how we should do it. Then people will fear making irresponsible statements," he told Malay Mail Online when asked to comment on the matter.

Singapore arrested and charged Yee for posting a YouTube video critical of the late Lee that also included disparaging remarks on Christianity. The teen faces up to three years’ jail and multiples fines upon conviction.

On Tuesday, Putrajaya tabled the first reading of its proposed amendments to the colonial-era law that would allow for criticism of the government in a bid to “create transparent and accountable administration” amid widespread opprobrium over its use on political dissenters if passed by Parliament.

But Abdul Rani said this would eliminate the element of fear from the law and encourage attacks against Putrajaya by those "who hate the government".

"People can easily get taksub (obsessed) by the criticisms and there is a chance that they can get influenced... they should still make criticising the government an offence," he said.

When asked if he felt that criticising the government is a democratic right of the public, the MJMM president disagreed and said doing so was a job exclusive to lawmakers.

"Who are they? We already have the MPs to slug it out. We can also view the debates on TV now so why do we need to add to it and start criticising? No. Leave the criticism to the lawmakers".

Abdul Rani also said he supported the proposed amendment to disallow bail for cases of aggravated sedition that cause bodily harm or damage.

"Why do it? These people, you can see they keep repeating. The moment they start coming out they start attacking the government again. They don't learn.

"So, to me you should just throw them into jail immediately," he said.

Under the Sedition (Amendments) Bill 2015, those who cause bodily harm or property damage with their sedition crimes would face jail terms of between five and 20 years. Those convicted of general sedition crimes face imprisonment of between three and seven years.

The colonial era law currently imposes a maximum three-year jail term or maximum RM5,000 fine on first time offenders, and a maximum five-year jail term for repeat offenders.

The amendments will be debated and voted on in today’s session of Parliament.

Up to 150 opposition leaders and activists have been hauled up under the Sedition Act recently.

Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but later announced in November last year that it will be retained and expanded instead.

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