Instead of promoting harmony, Bishop Paul Tan says, the new law may cause disharmony if its provisions are selectively enforced as in the case with the Sedition Act.
“My intention is not take political sides but since this new law is about ensuring religious and racial harmony, I feel duty bound to hold forth on the matter,” said Bishop Paul Tan.
“The contemplated new law may turn out to be a misnomer,” he added.
The head of the Catholic Church in the Malacca-Johor diocese was commenting on Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s announcement that the Sedition Act would be replaced by the National Harmony Act.
Instead of promoting harmony, Tan said, the new law might cause disharmony if its provisions were selectively enforced as had been the case with the Sedition Act.
The Sedition Act proscribed the questioning of a host of issues ranging from the position of Malay rulers to the status of Islam.
In announcing the new Act, Najib had said that the government was seeking to balance the right to free speech with the need to protect institutions and positions considered sacrosanct by the Malaysian body politic.
“Pray, consider what has happened in recent years,” said Tan.
“We have seen a politician or two and some religious leaders raise the bogey of Christian proselytization of Muslims and proffer no substantive proof in support and yet they have not been hauled up for seditious speech.
“But more surprising still – and a wonderfully pleasant one at that – was that the general populace declined to react to the inflammatory posturing of the individuals concerned,” he said.
Sign of growing maturity
Tan said this was perhaps a sign of growing maturity and discernment among the people that enabled them to distinguish between religious charlatans seeking to stir the pot and democrats questing after an expansion of the parameters of civic debate.
“Why then enact a new law when the old one has not been equitably enforced and why promulgate new legislation when the majority has shown a heartening maturity that intuitively accepts what is held to be sacrosanct and knows who is an inciter and who a responsible democrat?” he asked.
“The authorities must know that cynicism follows hard upon the impulse to draw up laws with zeal and enforce them with bias and that best subsoil of a civil polity is the restraint that ordinary people exhibit in the face of willful and undeterred demagogues.
“Don’t replace obsolete laws with newfangled ones especially if you cannot be counted on to enforce them with equity,” he added.