Abolishing draconian laws — Lim Sue Goan
JULY 13 — There is a certain political significance for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to announce the abolition of the Sedition Act 1948.
A series of events took place after the Bersih 3.0 rally, including rally participants being charged in courts, army veterans performing butt exercises in front of Bersih co-chairman Datuk S. Ambiga’s house, and former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad criticising that the government was too weak in handling the Bersih rally issue.
The events triggered a doubt that the government might shelve its transformation plans. Najib, however, proved that he has resisted the pressure and adhered to the transformation commitment by making the above mentioned announcement.
Secondly, abolishing old laws legislated before independence is an effort to move towards democracy and openness. Similar to the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Sedition Act has been seen as a draconian law made to deal with the opposition and dissidents. It is against the principles of democracy and human rights.
Some provisions of the Sedition Act are harsh. For example, section 2 says that any act, speech, words, publication or other thing carrying seditious tendency is considered as “seditious”. It is indeed subjective and it gives the authorities broad powers to interpret the meaning of seditious. Any remarks criticising the government might be considered as seditious.
In addition, even if you are not a publisher or a publication importer, you will still be considered to have violated the law if you possess a “seditious publication”. Section 4 (2) stated that “any person who without lawful excuse has in his possession any seditious publication shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable for a first offence to a fine not exceeding two thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months or to both.”
Those who have been charged under the Sedition Act included DAP national chairman Karpal Singh, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Human Rights Party leader P. Uthayakumar. It has also opened an opportunity for the international community to give the government an ignominious label. Moreover, the Sedition Act is outdated in the Internet age.
Therefore, the new National Harmony Act to replace the Sedition Act should be applicable in the new era and it should not include impractical limitations like the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Abolishing draconian laws like the Sedition Act and amending outdated laws like the Printing Presses and Publications Act could help in connecting the country with the outside world. However, transformation plans and legal reforms are merely administrative and judicial reforms. The continuous pursuit of bureaucracy and the disrespect for civil rights are the result of the lack of transformation in terms of mindset and thinking.
For example, 25 of 35 Indian smallholders from Cameron Highlands, who set up camp outside the Kuantan mentri besar’s office after their demand to meet the mentri besar was rejected, were arrested, and three of them later complained that police officers had pinched their necks and spat on them. Charging these poor people would only worsen their plight. Perhaps, what they really need is not legal reforms, but the mentri besar’s concern and humane treatment.
At the same time, the mindset of law enforcement officers must be transformed. Otherwise, similar cases like the death of Teoh Beng Hock and the use of violence against rally participants will be repeated.
It is good for Najib to be committed to transformation and, hopefully, such an opening can be extended to other areas, like the relaxation of education policy to allow the formation of Chinese independent schools, to make openness the ultimate goal and core of the government.
As the BN is moving towards openness, it forces the Pakatan Rakyat to be more open as well, such as including the formation of Chinese primary schools and the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) in its political platform, while other local governments in Selangor also dare not follow the ruling of the Kuala Selangor District Council to ban unmarried Muslim couples from sitting together in a cinema.
Openness can drive away devils and under the atmosphere of openness, we can see the sincerity of political parties. — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.