PETALING JAYA: There is no need to retain the Sedition Act 1948 even for use only against those who insult royalty, say two lawyers and a former member of parliament.
Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah said the colonial-era legislation should be repealed as it was archaic.
“We need to enact new laws. The way forward is to enact the national harmony bills,” Cheah told FMT.
Cheah was referring to the racial and religious hate crimes bill, the national harmony and reconciliation bill, and the national harmony and reconciliation commission bill.
She had previously said these bills would help achieve “the balance of upholding freedom of speech while maintaining public security”.
The Bar president was commenting on law and institutional reform minister Azalina Othman Said’s statement that the Cabinet had agreed to review and limit the scope of the country’s sedition law to those who insult royalty.
Azalina’s statement, issued on July 25, came days after Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim reminded the opposition that criticising the Malay rulers was strictly off-limits.
Earlier, on July 18, PAS’ Sanusi Nor claimed trial to two charges of making seditious statements against the royalty.
Lawyers for Liberty director Zaid Malek agreed with Cheah, saying the Act should not be retained even in a more limited form, as it was too broad by design and open to abuse.
“It takes no imagination to understand that this government or any government after it can use the Sedition Act for any criticism against it under the guise of insult to the royals,” he said.
He said the unity government should not back down from Pakatan Harapan’s multiple promises to repeal the law.
Former Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah also called for the Act to be repealed, saying it was not in line with international standards on the rule of law and freedom of expression.
She said the Penal Code already contains provisions listing offences against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which can be amended to make it a crime to insult the rulers.
“In principle, we agree that the monarchy should never be insulted but the protection of such an insult need not be with the Sedition Act,” she said.