Some of the amendments to the Sedition Act of 1948 approved by Malaysia’s Parliament could further undermine freedom of expression.
This is the verdict of media groups, opposition politicians, activists, and even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights after the amendment bill was passed by the parliament on April 10, 2015.
The government made an election pledge in 2012 to repeal the Sedition Act — which targets discourse deemed subversive to the state — but it reneged on its commitment by passing a measure that strengthened the colonial era law.
In the past year, scores of critics, journalists, academics, and opposition politicians have been arrested on suspicion of sedition. Thus, the decision to affirm the Sedition Act was seen by many as an indicator that the ruling coalition, which has been in power since the 1950s, intends to continue persecuting its perceived political enemies.
One of the amendments gives mandate to the Sessions Court to issue a “prohibition order” on any seditious publication that would “likely lead to bodily injury or damage to property”, or “appears to be promoting feeling of ill will, hostility or hatred” between different races or classes on the grounds of religion.
The court is also empowered to issue an order to remove seditious publications made by electronic means including online publications.
A new section imposes a penalty of between five and 20 years jail for sedition crimes that cause bodily harm or property damage. Another amendment increases the jail term for acts of general sedition to between three and seven years.
Perhaps it is good news that general criticism of the government and the judiciary is no longer considered seditious. But the jail term for sedition cases has been increased and the requirements to prove sedition have been relaxed.
While the government believes the amendments to the Sedition Act are necessary to preserve harmony in society, for many citizens, they are troubling signs of increased state repression in the country.
Read more: globalvoicesonline.org – Written by Mong Palatino