The new Act will safeguard the right to freedom of speech and protect national unity, says Prime Minister Najib.
The 1948 law, which was often used to allegedly silence and intimidate opposition, is to be replaced with a new National Harmony Act, Najib said in a speech at the Attorney General’s Chambers dinner here.
The country’s sixth premier said the new Act will safeguard the right to freedom of speech while protecting national unity by preventing the incitement of religious or ethnic hatred.
The move will likely be seen as another round of election push as Najib tries to redeem his ruling coalition’s record losses in 2008 general election at the upcoming national polls which must be held by April 2013.
Najib also said that he has instructed Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail to hold a full public consultation before the new legislation is drafted to ensure that the views of all Malaysians are represented.
“The Sedition Act represents a bygone era in our country and with today’s announcement we mark another step forward in Malaysia’s development.
“The new National Harmony Act will balance the right of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution, while at the same time ensuring that all races and religions are protected,” he said.
“Our country’s strength lies in its diversity. The new Act underlines my commitment to nurturing the spirit of harmony and mutual respect that has been the foundation of our stability and success,” added the prime minister.
Series of reforms
Najib’s announcement today follows a series of reforms initiated by his government. These reforms, all of which have been implemented rapidly, include:
- Ending Malaysia’s State of Emergency, by revoking all three existing proclamation of emergencies and their legislations;
- The repeal of the colonial-era Internal Security Act and replacing it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, which limits detention without trial to 28 days;
- The introduction of the Printing Presses and Publications (Amendment) Bill, which removes the requirement for newspapers and printed publications to renew their license to print annually;
- A review of laws relating to freedom of assembly, resulting in the new Peaceful Assembly Act; and
- Amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow student participation in politics.
In an immediate reaction, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) warmly welcomed the announcement, saying that this reform was long awaited by progressive Malaysians.
“This marks another important milestone in the prime minister’s transformation agenda,” Ideas’ chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
“We would have preferred if the Sedition Act is not replaced by anything at all, but, since the government will proceed with the replacement law, we congratulate the prime minister for staying true to his promise to put people first through this consultation.
“We urge the public and members of civil society to engage in this consultation process,” he added in a statement.
He said that the repeal of the Sedition Act should allow Malaysians to speak to each other without fearing possible legal repercussion for speaking our minds.
“It should also enable Malaysians to properly debate the effectiveness of our key democratic institutions. Of course this freedom comes with the responsibility to not slander or defame others,” he said.