PETALING JAYA: The government will continue to rely on the Sedition Act 1948 in appropriate cases to prosecute those who promote hate speech, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said.
He said the increased volume of hate speech, particularly online, relating to race,
religion and royalty in the nation’s plural society means that freedom of speech and
expression are being abused.
He said the challenge for the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has been to balance
enhanced freedom of speech after the last general election with widespread hate speech which hurt the feelings of the people.
“When prosecution has to occur, we will rely on the Penal Code, but where there are no alternatives under our laws, in appropriate cases we cannot rule out applying the Sedition Act, until it is repealed,” he said in a statement.
Thomas, a former lawyer but appointed AG in June last year, said that upon assuming office, he decided to look at alternative laws in the statute books, including provisions in the Penal Code, but to only turn to the Sedition Act as a measure of last resort.
“Because the Sedition Act is still a law, it cannot be totally disregarded. That can only occur if Parliament repeals it,” he said.
Thomas said Wan Ji Wan Hussin’s case has once again brought to focus the continued use of the law by the AGC and the misinformation surrounding the subject.
He said the law is among the Acts of Parliament that the Pakatan Harapan manifesto promised will be repealed.
Secondly, he said the Cabinet has not informed the AGC of any decision to repeal or amend it.
“Under our system of government, it is the Cabinet that decides on behalf of the executive branch, to enact, repeal or amend laws for presentation to Parliament, with the AGC assisting in the drafting of new laws,” he said.
Thirdly, he said the Cabinet has not “instructed” the AGC to refrain from relying on the Sedition Act.
He said such an instruction would not, in any event, be lawful because it would offend the discretionary power under the Federal Constitution vested solely in the office of the AG to decide on prosecutorial matters on behalf of the state.
Thomas said it is the policy of the AGC that all sedition cases pending in the courts since last year would be reviewed on an individual basis depending on its peculiar circumstances.
“We only act on written representations from an accused or his lawyer. This promotes transparency and accountability,” he added.