Amnesty calls for Malaysia to end sedition law after three held

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(Sept 5): Amnesty International and Malaysian civil groups called on Prime Minister Najib Razak to honor a pledge to repeal a sedition law from the nation’s colonial era after three people were charged this week under the act.

Amnesty International Malaysia said increasing use of the act is fostering a “climate of repression,” and a joint statement by 112 civil groups today called for the abolition of the law. A journalist at an online news portal was arrested yesterday, while a university lecturer and an opposition politician were separately charged this week on suspicion of breaking the law, according to the Star newspaper.

“In the last month alone, at least seven people are known to have been charged or placed under investigation for so-called seditious comments,” Shamini Darshni, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, said in a statement yesterday on its website.

The law, which dates back to 1948 when Malaysia was under British rule, mandates jail sentences of at least three years for words deemed seditious, including those that “excite dissatisfaction” against the government. Najib said in July 2012 the law represents a “bygone era” and will be replaced by a new National Harmony Act, a bill his office has said will be submitted to parliament by the end of next year.

The new legislation would protect freedom of expression while preventing incitement of religious or ethnic hatred, Najib has said. Before the new law comes into place, existing cases under the Sedition Act must be tried under current rules, the government said last month.

“The Sedition Act is a piece of repressive legislation made by the British colonial government to suppress freedom of expression and opinion of our forefathers who fought for the independence of our country,” according to the civil groups’ statement. “This legislation has to go if we want to be a truly independent nation.”

Sedition Cases

Susan Loone, a journalist at the Malaysiakini website, was released on bail after nine hours of police questioning about an article she wrote, the Star said.

David Orok, an opposition politician from the eastern Sabah state, was charged with sedition over a Facebook posting allegedly insulting Islam, according to the newspaper. He was released on bail.

Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer at University of Malaya, pleaded not guilty after he was charged in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 2 over his comments published on an online news portal about a political tussle.