‘Justification’ of sedition probes makes no sense, lawyer-activist tells Dr M

Lawyer-activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri.

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer-activist, who was recently hauled in for questioning under the Sedition Act 1948, has rubbished Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assurance that there is no need to be alarmed over the sedition probe into the recent forum on the Rome Statute.

“It’s an excuse that does not make sense,” Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said when commenting on the prime minister’s statement that charges do not necessarily follow sedition investigations by the police, who must find out if people wanted to “stir up trouble”.

“If you are not going to be charged, does that not mean that when the police call you up it is actually an abuse of power?” she asked.

Fadiah, who was quizzed by the police over an article purportedly questioning the royal institution, also said this could be considered as intimidation or a threat.

“Normally, when it comes to the Sedition Act, those who are called up by the police will be contacted many times for investigation,” said the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism legal officer, whose sedition probe is still underway.

Fadiah said that as long as the Sedition Act was not repealed, the authorities could do whatever they liked using taxpayers’ money to investigate them “for whatever reason”.

Because of this, the people would always be afraid to speak up, she said, adding that this was a clear violation of the freedom to speak out and criticise those in power.

Outgoing Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun was reported to have said that an investigation was underway into last Saturday’s forum on the Rome Statute, which featured Attorney-General Tommy Thomas as one of the speakers.

Fuzi said the investigation was prompted by “several complaints” filed with the police.

Mahathir told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Kuala Lumpur earlier today that there was nothing to be afraid of if one reported the truth.

“But if you tell lies and you make up stories just to stir up emotions and make people angry with each other, then of course that is not right,” he said.

Human rights watchdog Suaram disagreed with Mahathir’s “justification” of the use of the act for investigation purposes, saying it “stifles” the constitutional right of expression.

“Investigation for any comments for sedition is intimidation, pure and simple,” Suaram project coordinator Dobby Chew told FMT.

“Even if it is not the intention of the police, when someone is called to give a statement, it sends a message that the state is watching and will take action.”

Chew said the authorities should not be “policing” comments made at public forums.

This is especially so when there are no elements of incitement to violence, as was the case with the forum.

“An investigation like this sends the wrong message to the public,” he said.

Johor DAP committee member Dr Boo Cheng Hau said the continued use of the Sedition Act by the government, despite promising to repeal it, “goes against efforts to cultivate a civic conscious society”.

Boo, who has been at odds with Mahathir in the past, added: “It won’t help promote a mature democracy in Malaysia.”

Eric Paulsen, the country’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, pointed out that the Sedition Act was never enacted by the Malaysian Parliament in the first place as it is a pre-colonial era law.

He said it also had no place in the “new Malaysia”, which was “committed to human rights and democracy”.

Calling for the Act to be abolished or else the authorities will be “tempted to use it”, the human rights lawyer also said that definitions under the Act were “undemocratic, vague and wide-ranging”.

Because of this, the Act could easily be abused “to shut down conversations on sensitive issues”, Paulsen tweeted.