Let’s just get it done – stop using the Sedition Act!


Let’s just get it done – stop using the Sedition Act!
By Zan Azlee

There are many reasons as to why I did not vote for Barisan Nasional in the last general election. One of the main reasons is that I felt it did not provide a safe environment for me and my fellow Malaysians to be able to express our thoughts, discuss and have proper discourse.

Every time we wanted to raise questions related to issues that are communal and social, we had to think three, four or maybe a dozen times if it would be deemed too ‘sensitive’ that it would put us in trouble. We all know what I mean. If something were to offend someone in power, that’s it.

There was really nothing we could do about it because the practice was made systematic when laws were created vague enough so that almost anything and everything could be considered an offence. Case in point would be the Sedition Act. It is so vague and subjective that anyone can interpret it differently.

We saw so many people being detained by the authorities for saying things that many don’t even find offensive at all. Journalists and editors were hauled up and interrogated for doing their jobs questioning government practices. Normal citizens got detained for expressing their feelings on social media.

It didn’t matter if it was hate speech or just healthy discourse. If the authorities didn’t like it and felt it was offensive, they could define it as that. So much so that people were literally self-censoring themselves very stringently. It was better to be safe rather than be sorry, and this killed our spirit.

After decades and decades of fighting this oppression, we finally succeeded in discarding the people who had put these laws in place. We voted in a government that had promised us freedom of expression and speech. We could now create an environment where we could express our grouses and play a role in our country’s governance.

These same people we voted in have been on the receiving end of the oppression so they must know. They even promised us that they would repeal these laws when they came into power. In the meantime, they put in place a moratorium on the enforcement of these laws.

Everything seemed fine. Some Malaysians started criticising the new (old) prime minister and people started saying that this was inappropriate. The old man stayed true and said that it’s okay to be criticised and that it came with the territory of being a politician and serving the people. No action was taken against them, and rightfully so.

Then, in the last week or so, we had an issue with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. After a lot of rumours were making the rounds, of which he made no comments, he decided to resign from his position. The Agong is an important Malaysian institution and we all should rightfully feel ownership over it and so there were a few passionate people who made their thoughts public on social media.

Immediately, the police clamped down and detained these individuals under the Sedition Act, which should actually not be used since there is a moratorium. What happened there? Don’t these people, as Malaysians, have a right to express their thoughts about it?

Even if their thoughts are unacceptable, the Sedition Act should not be used on them. What has happened to all the talk about creating an environment that allowed for discourse and debate? Fight words and thoughts with other words and thoughts like a civilised society instead of throwing people in jail for their opposing views.

The prime minister has come out stating that a clear definition is needed as to what constitutes an insult. He said that the enforcement officers do not understand what is considered an insult and it needs to be spelt out to them what actions are considered insults.

Here’s the thing. We already know that the laws are so vague that they allow anyone to manipulate them. That is why it was a part of the current government’s election manifesto. That is also why the moratorium was enforced so that it wouldn’t be manipulated before it was repealed.

What is taking so long for the government to repeal the laws? It even lifted the moratorium, apparently to handle the recent Seafield temple riots situation. But see how problematic it is? Sometimes, even if people speak fact, it can still be interpreted as an insult.

So let’s just get it done and over with. Repeal all these impractical and oppressive laws that were put in place for the wrong reasons. Do it now. There are no two ways about it. As long as the laws are still there, they can and will be used for the wrong reasons.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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