FMT LETTER: From Jeyaseelen Anthony, via e-mail
With the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, Malaysia has joined the ranks of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Kenya who have similarly repealed their Sedition Act.
But reintroducing vestiges of the Sedition Act into the proposed National Harmony Act, e.g. Section 3 (1) (a) and (f) which criminalises speech questioning the acts of the Rulers (Sultans) and Malay rights should not be part of the proposed law.
In fact there should not even be any replacement law for the Sedition Act. The British, creators of the offence of sedition, have totally done away with the Act, which made criticisms of the monarch or the government a criminal offence. Why must we be any different?
The Federal Constitution already provides that the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong or the Rulers of any State can sue or can be sued in their personal capacity by the common people. The need for new law to protect the rulers is in fact unnecessary. Even in Thailand there is a strong movement against criminalising speech which is critical against the King.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, during his birthday speech to people in 2005 encouraged criticism and he was quoted to have said: “Actually, I must also be criticised. I’m not afraid if the criticisms concerns what I do wrong, because then I know…”
Even if it is argued that that a law like the National Harmony Act is necessary to maintain public tranquility and racial harmony, there are enough provisions in the Penal Code to deal with racial strife and anarchy.
People who cross the line by inciting others to overthrow the government or the monarchy through violence or to commit crimes against another community can be dealt with under the Penal Code. There are enough provisions in the Penal Code to deal with these types of offences. So why do we need the National Harmony Act? he said.
To protect the institution of the monarchy the Penal Code can be amended to include such protections in addition to the existing one under Section 121A and Section 121B. However it must not criminalise speech or statements which are merely critical of the monarchy such as Nizar Jamaluddin’s statement against the Sultan of Johor with regards to the number plate or Karpal Singh’s statement against the Sultan of Perak saying that he can sued.
It should be limited to speech or publications which are obscene containing profanities or something which affects the dignity of royalties like some of the “Lese Majesty” laws in Europe.
All pending charges against all individuals under the Sedition Act 1948 must be withdrawn. To continue to pursue these charges against these individuals is an affront to justice, especially when the Deputy Prime Minister has said that the Act will be repealed in the September sitting of Parliament.
The writer, a non -practicing lawyer, was a member of the Bar Council Law Reform Committee. He is a now a Consultant Fellow attached to the Faculty of Law, University Malaya and author of ‘Seditious Tendency? Political Patronisation of Free Speech and Expression in Malaysia’.