Conflicting comments made by top ministers over the Sedition Act 1948’s impending repeal suggests that Putrajaya will face difficulty in replacing the colonial-era law.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the government had not made any decision yet to repeal, replace or amend the Sedition Act.
“A draft on the laws of the government will only be prepared by the Attorney-General’s office based on views of the Cabinet after considering views and recommendations from all parties involved,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama today.
“The government has not made any decision yet be it to abolish the Act, replace it with a new Act or amend the current Act.”
His comments fly in the face of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s reiteration on September 5 that the Sedition Act would be abolished and replaced by the proposed National Harmony Act.
But, Muhyiddin, who is also Umno deputy president, urged the public not to be influenced by the Bar Council’s draft of the National Harmony Bills which is set to replace the controversial Act.
“The people may be influenced by the draft by the Bar Council (sic) to repeal the Sedition Act. But my advice is to wait for the draft from the government to be completed,” he said according to Bernama.
Critics of the Sedition Act say it is too broad in its definition of what is seditious and can be abused by the government against its detractors.
The proposed National Harmony Bills were drafted by the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), which seeks to narrow down the broad offences stipulated under the Sedition Act.
The NUCC law and policy committee had proposed three new laws to replace the Sedition Act: the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill, and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill.
Its drafters said the new laws would place a higher threshold on what constitutes a crime, and would provide less room for what is perceived to be selective persecution.
However, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that certain elements in the controversial Sedition Act would be maintained in the National Harmony Act, Bernama reported.
“We know the government has announced the National Harmony Act to replace the Sedition Act 1948, and we should know that the prime minister’s repeal of the Sedition Act will not involve abolishing all the elements in the act.
“On the contrary, what will happen is that it may strengthen several clauses in the Sedition Act 1948 which are no longer relevant with the situation, and strengthen it through the National Harmony Act,” Zahid was quoted as saying.
He added that Putrajaya would take into account the views of Umno members unhappy with the repeal of the Sedition Act.
Meanwhile, de facto law minister Nancy Shukhri dashed any hopes of the Sedition Act being abolished any time soon.
She said the law was still essential in maintaining the peace, harmony and unity of the country, Bernama reported.
“The prime minister did say that (we will) abolish the Sedition Act, but the government will not do so until there is a replacement,” she said.
She added that the rising trend of offences on social media was making it difficult for the government to complete the bills immediately.
On Saturday, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said the NUCC’s proposed bills would be handed over to Putrajaya after the council meets to discuss it on September 17.
He said if the federal government agrees with the NUCC’s proposal, it will direct the Attorney-General to draft the actual replacement bill, he said.
In recent weeks, Putrajaya has hauled up and charged a number of opposition politicians as well as an academic with sedition in the largest crackdown the country has witnessed since October 1987’s Operasi Lalang.
On Friday, Muhammad Safwan Anang, a former chairperson of Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 10 months’ jail over a speech delivered on May 13 last year.
Azmi Sharom, a Universiti Malaya law professor, was charged with sedition on Monday over remarks in a news portal on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis.
In recent weeks, a number of opposition politicians – PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli, Padang Serai MP N. Surendran (PKR), Shah Alam MP and PAS central committee member Khalid Samad, and Seri Delima assemblyman R.S.N. Rayer (DAP) – have all been charged with sedition.
Seputeh MP Teresa Kok (DAP) and Batu MP Tian Chua (PKR) are also facing trial for sedition, while former Perak MP and Changkat Jering assemblyman Nizar Jamaluddin (PAS) was charged with criminal defamation for a statement he allegedly made two years ago.
The sedition charges come two years after Najib first promised to repeal the Sedition Act 1948. Najib in July 2013 announced for the second time his intention to repeal the 66-year-old act when he was interviewed by the BBC, saying it would be replaced by a new National Harmony Act. – September 7, 2014.
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