The Sedition Act should not be replaced in name only


The Sedition Act should not be replaced in name only
By Zan Azlee

Yesterday, Facebook brought up a memory from eight years ago. It was a picture, actually a video screen capture, that Shufiyan Shukor, an old friend of mine who used to be a journalist at Malaysiakini then, had sent to me.

It was a picture of me running cowardly away with a camera in my hand (photo, above) from a row of riot police who were firing tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators near Puduraya. I never looked so sissy-fied in my life!

Eight years ago, on July 9, 2011, the Bersih 2.0 rally took place in Kuala Lumpur. As usual, I was covering it as a video journalist and so was Shufiyan. We fraternised a little when the demonstration started out peacefully. But when it got chaotic, we had our game faces on.

If you remember, this was the most violent Bersih demonstration, where police brutality was at its height. I saw demonstrators being beaten, kicked and detained. That one-day demonstration saw more than 1,000 people being arrested.

Aside from demonstrators, people who attended the Bersih event and were supposed to talk to the crowd were also arrested. Many were detained even before they gave their speeches. Among them included Ambiga Sreenevasan, Sivarasa Rasiah and Ngeh Koo Ham.

I would like to believe that the days where the authorities would crack down on the people’s freedom of speech are behind us. For the most part, the current government has not denied the people their freedom of expressing their thoughts.

However, the laws that could be used to curb the people’s freedom are still in existence. Under the current government’s election manifesto was that they would repeal the Sedition Act 1946 once they got into power. Well, they are in power, for more than a year now, and the law is still in place.

We don’t want to encourage hate speech

Basically, the Sedition Act says that any speech that is deemed as having seditious tendencies. Sure, we don’t want to encourage hate speech, but the definition of what is seditious needs to be detailed out because, for too long, this law has been used by the authorities to curb freedom of speech.

In 2014, Muslim preacher Wan Ji Wan Hussin was sentenced to nine months in prison under the Sedition Act for posting a critical post about the Sultan of Selangor on Facebook. This was in 2014. Okay, fine. It was before the new government.

But then, very recently, the High Court in Shah Alam enhanced his sentence to one year. And this is during the administration of the new government. Many people have come out to say that is too harsh and that the government has reneged from its promise.

So, what has happened? Is the government now not interested in repealing the Sedition Act? Has it decided that it can actually use the law to its advantage, no matter what the consequences are for the people of Malaysia? Would the days of Bersih 2.0 return?

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad immediately gave a statement saying that the Sedition Act will be repealed as promised and that they are currently fine-tuning a new law to take its place. However, he did not say when this will happen.

But I have to be honest and say that I am quite worried. Why does the repeal of a law have to also be followed by a replacement? If you remember carefully, the previous government under the former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak (photo) has done that too.

Najib had promised that the Internal Security Act (ISA) would be repealed. Everyone was happy and commented on how he was becoming more progressive. Then guess what? He just replaced it with the Security Offences and Special Measures Act (Sosma).

Pay attention and you will see that Sosma is almost identical to the ISA. So what changed? Just the name of the act? Are people any wiser to actually notice it? Or did Najib think that a change in the name, or ‘rebranding’ of the law, was enough to be a smokescreen for the people?

I hope that this won’t be the case with the new government and the Sedition Act. I also hope that the people won’t be blinded if a ‘rebranding’ happens to this law. We need to monitor how the government is going about repealing this act.

Malaysians have to keep tabs to the timeline of when it’s going to happen and demand that it happens sooner, rather than later. We also have to make sure that once it is repealed, the new law that replaces it must be progressive and not the same old same old.

We voted this government into power on the promises it made to us. We fought long and hard for our voices to be heard when we voted that time. And guess what? Our voices were heard. So now, let’s make sure that our voices will always be heard.

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

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