Lawyer: Federal Court has final say on sedition law


PETALING JAYA: The final legal position of the much criticised Sedition Act will only be known next year when the Federal Court hears two appeals, lawyer Syahredzan Johan said.

Being the apex court, its decision would be binding and a guidance to lower courts,” said the lawyer who mostly handles civil rights and constitutional cases.

Syahredzan was responding to two recent cases at the Court of Appeal, one which will go up to the Federal Court .

On Nov 25, the Court of Appeal, in a landmark decision, ruled that Section 3(3) of the legislation was unconstitutional as the prosecution was now exempted from proving intention of accused persons.

A three-man panel chaired by Justice Lim Yee Lan said that both intention and the act must be proven to establish a prima facie case.

In that case, the court had allowed the application by Sri Muda Assemblyman Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei who had challenged the constitutionality of the Sedition Act in relation to seditious tendency and its penalty.

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali said the government would appeal the ruling.

Syahredzan said Mat Shuhaimi’s case was the law now until and unless the Federal Court sets aside that decision.

On Tuesday, another bench of the Court of Appeal acquitted former student activist Muhammad Safwan Anang over a charge of allegedly urging the public to topple the government through street protests three years ago.

However, this case has come to finality because Safwan’s trial began in the Sessions Court.

Another case that will feature in the Federal Court is the appeal against the conviction of the late Karpal Singh, the former DAP national chairman, who had questioned the Sultan of Perak on the removal of his menteri besar in 2009.

The Court of Appeal in May made a split 2-1 decision to uphold the conviction of the High Court.

The High Court in Feb 2014 had found Karpal guilty of sedition.

The panel, however, reduced Karpal’s RM4,000 fine to RM1,800, effectively reversing his disqualification as an MP and allowing his widow to collect his pension.

Karpal died on April 17, 2014 in a car accident on the North-South expressway near Gua Tempurung while on his way to Penang.

Lawyer Joanne Chua, who is in the legal team that handled Karpal’s case, said they had yet to file their memorandum of appeal in the Federal Court.

“It is premature to reveal what are the legal issues that will be raised,” she said.

Syahredzan said the people must be aware that Parliament last year passed amendments to the Sedition Act but the government had yet to announce its enforcement date.

That amendment could regulate news portals and other social media users that are critical of the establishment.

The changes were not only intended to check on news articles or commentaries deemed seditious, but also to curb feedback from readers.

Syahredzan said provisions in the law could be used to remove any information that, in the opinion of the establishment, was against government leaders and organisations.

He said the amendment that gave powers to the court to prohibit the circulation of seditious publications was a serious attack on free speech and expression in a democratic society.

He said the move extended the maximum possible jail term for offences and set the minimum sentence at three years.

“This means elected representatives could be disqualified from holding office if they are found guilty and given a jail term,” he added.

Currently, those jailed for more than a year and fined RM2,000 will lose their seats.