Malaysia lawyers march against Sedition Act

Sunday 26 October 2014

Date: 16 October 2014

Source:Channel News Asia

Type: News

Keywords: Sedition law

Hundreds of Malaysia’s lawyers and their supporters on Thursday (October 16) marched on Parliament demanding the government honours its two-year-old pledge to repeal the Sedition Act the British had introduced in the 1940s to curb dissent against colonial rule.

KUALA LUMPUR: Suited up, under the blazing sun, hundreds of Malaysia’s lawyers and their supporters marched on Parliament on Thursday (Oct 16) in a rare demonstration of discontent against the nation’s Sedition Act.

Chris Leong, President of Malaysian Bar Council, said: "The Sedition Act is repugnant because the Sedition Act seeks to compress and restrict democratic space. It punishes speech. It punishes expression of thought by thinking Malaysians."

This was only the fourth time in the Malaysian Bar Council’s more than 60-year history that it has staged a demonstration such as the one on Thursday. But the Council said the protest was necessary to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration to fulfil its promise. Mr Najib had pledged to repeal the Act two years ago - an Act the British had introduced in the 1940s to curb dissent against colonial rule.

But since March last year, the Council believes at least 30 people have been investigated or charged for sedition. One of them was student activist Adam Adli, who has been sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly seditious comments he made during a talk about the results of Malaysia’s 13th general elections.

"The way I look at it was that I didn’t really create any unrest among the people," he told Channel NewsAsia. "What I did was I create unrest among the government, those in charge in the office, and that’s why I was charged and convicted."

Aidila Razak, a journalist, said: "My colleague Susan Loone, she’s also assistant editor at Malaysiakini, she heads the northern bureau. She’s been arrested for actually just doing her job, and I think that’s really repulsive. It has nothing to do with sedition, she was just reporting what other people had said."

Dubbed the "Walk for Peace and Freedom", representatives from the Bar Council had hoped to submit a memorandum to Mr Najib. But they were just as happy that a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mah Siew Keong, had received them. "We had a fruitful discussion and he had assured us that all of [the lawyers’] views contained in a memorandum addressed to the prime minister will be conveyed to the prime minister," he said.

The Malaysian government has said it will consider abolishing the Sedition Act when its intended replacement, the National Harmony Bill, is ready. But analysts suspect the prime minister may renege on his pledge to repeal the Act altogether.

There are many strong advocates for the Act within Mr Najib’s party. And they argue the Act is to safeguard national unity. "Walk against sedition has not made an impact because most Malaysians want safeguards against racially/religiously offensive speech," tweeted Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

Tricia Yeoh, Chief Operating Officer, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said: "There would be some quarters who believe the Sedition Act should either be abolished, or maybe tempered down, so that it’s not so harsh. But that would receive a huge backlash from other side of the ruling party, which believes that there should be a stronger reaction from the government when there are criticisms being made."

Still, the Malaysian Bar Council is undeterred. It says the walk is just the beginning of a long and sustained campaign, one that it hopes will lead to the revoking of the Sedition Act once and for all.###

See online : Channel News Asia

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