Bad faith to use sedition pending review, law experts tell Putrajaya
KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — The authorities should stop sedition probes pending Putrajaya’s review of the controversial law, say legal experts following an investigation into reports lodged against Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin for allegedly criticising the Johor Ruler’s RM500,000 purchase of the WWW1 car registration number plate.
News that Johor police are investigating the former Perak mentri besar for sedition has reignited debate on the archaic law that critics say is being used as a political tool to suppress legitimate dissent against the government.
Universiti Malaya (UM) law lecturer Azmi Sharom told The Malaysian Insider the authorities should stop using the Sedition Act to investigate or prosecute individuals while the Najib administration reviews the 1948 law.
“The underlying theme is the government is using all these powers to curb dissent against the government, to curb criticism of the government,” he said.
Earlier last month, city police opened a file on activist Irene Fernandez for allegedly telling a Jakarta daily that Malaysia is unsafe for migrant workers following a fatal shooting of three suspected Indonesian robbers in Negri Sembilan.
Veteran lawyer and lawmaker Karpal Singh is also on trial for allegedly uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak three years ago, saying the state Ruler could be questioned in a court of law over the removal of Nizar as mentri besar.
Azmi pointed out that many countries have got rid of the Sedition Act because “historically, sedition was used to curb criticism of the colonial government.
“What they are doing to Nizar is very clearly to suppress his right to free speech, his opinion. This is obviously a bad law,” he said.
“It is bad faith on their part. If they think something is bad, then don’t use it. Get it fixed first,” he added, referring to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan echoed the law lecturer’s view.
He said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had pledged in Parliament last month to review the Sedition Act and replace the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 as part of a slew of legislative reforms he hopes will sway voter support for the ruling BN bloc in national polls that must be called by March next year.
“The executive has realised that something is wrong with the Act and we need to do something about it. That means its continued use cannot be justified,” the lawyer told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
He added: “This Act must go. It is against democracy and one’s constitutional freedom of expression and speech.”
The lawyer said that citizens also had the right to expect the authorities to stop their “wanton” use of the law after publicly acknowledging that it was outdated.
“Only as a last measure. When they admit that something is wrong, we should see it being used less and less,” said Syahredzan, who heads the Bar Council’s constitutional law committee.
The lawyer noted the trend for the authorities to cite the Sedition Act as an early measure in their investigations and prosecution because “it is the easiest offence to satisfy”.
“They don’t have to prove that there is sedition, only to show there is a tendency,” Syahredzan said, pointing to section 3(1) of the Sedition Act, which lists six sub-clauses defining a seditious tendency.
It includes, “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government”.
Syahredzan noted there was tendency for the government to go on the offensive and use the laws as weapons when it was being hit by criticism. He stressed that it occurred on both sides of the political divide.
“It’s a classic case of shooting the messenger to dilute the message,” he said, pointing to the continued harassment and attacks against Fernandez and even Datuk Ambiga Sreenevsasan, chairman of electoral reform group Bersih.
“This keeps happening in Malaysia because they don’t want to deal with the message,” he said.
Senior lawyer Sankara Nair said the hazy nature of the Sedition Act placed the accused person “at the mercy of the courts and prosecution”.
“It is unjust and can be used as a political weapon against those who do not agree with the government of the day,” he said when contacted.
He added that the law was also vague on criticism against royalty because there was no distinction on what can or cannot be said.
Johor police chief Deputy Commissioner Datuk Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Sharif told reporters on Wednesday the department had received five complaints over Nizar’s Twitter remarks posted last Monday and had started investigating the PAS lawmaker for sedition.
Nizar, who has 18,529 followers on the micro-blogging social network, had posted three tweets on the Sultan of Johor’s record RM520,000 bid for the WWW1 number plate that beat out almost 10,000 other bidders including the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
“rm520k utk no plate www1,Xkan nak letak kat kereta proton atau motor kut? ramai lagi rakyat yg masih kais pagi mkn pagi kais ptg mkn petang! (rm520k for the WWW1 plate, not going to be on proton or motor, right? more poor people who live from hand-to-mouth daily).
“but if comparing 24million diamond ring by rosmah,then rm520k 4 www1 reg plate is nothing! but how does 1 justify that purchase? MFatwaKeb?
“rm520k bolih dibelanjakan membantu rakyat melayu johor yg masih ramai miskin serta memerlukan bantuan utk kprluan hidup,bina 20 rumah pprt! (RM520,000 can be spent on poor Malays in Johor who need help to survive, and build 20 pprt [government low-cost] homes),” he said on May 28.