Activists vow to keep fighting sedition charge

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KUALA LUMPUR: A sedition charge against a law professor yesterday for commenting on the 2009 Perak crisis has prompted local activists to sound a warning to Putrajaya: Malaysians will keep fighting against the government’s “culture of fear”.

Ivy Josiah, executive director of Women’s Aid Organisation, told The Malaysian Insider that Universiti Malaya (UM) professor Dr Azmi Sharom’s case gave her a sense of deja vu, having experienced Operasi Lalang in 1987 and having fought the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 2009.

“The recent strategy to just slap people with sedition is an attempt to create the culture of fear, to discourage critical voices.

“But we’ve fought the ISA, and now we’re fighting the Sedition Act. You can keep trying to create the culture of fear, but Malaysians will keep fighting,” she said.

The social activist said it was for this reason she had turned up to support Azmi at the Kuala Lumpur High Court: to make a stand for the freedom of expression.

Rosli Mahat, the secretary-general of the Malaysian Academic Movement (MOVE) said the sedition charge would not stifle academics from speaking out for the truth. “As academics, our priority is truth and knowledge. Even Islam requires us to uphold that, especially as educators,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir, who also appeared in support of the academic, said she was unable to wrap her head around the entire episode. “As far as I understand, it seems crazy to me. I can’t see what the issue is, it’s really nonsensical.

“I don’t know what the country is coming to,” she said, after the charges under Section 4(1)(b) and Section 4(1)(c) were read out to Azmi.

The law professor’s allegedly seditious remarks, published in a news portal on Aug 14, include: “You don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place.” Another was: “I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible”.

Azmi had commented on the Selangor menteri besar impasse, in which he warned Pakatan Rakyat against acting outside the state assembly as what had happened in Perak.

A defiant Azmi said he would fight the charge as it was a blow to academic freedom and freedom of expression.

“I hope that reason will prevail. My statements were based on established case laws and democratic principles,” said Azmi who read from a prepared statement after posting bail. He said the comments were given in his capacity as law lecturer with 20 years of experience.

Azmi thanked his colleagues, Universiti Malaya students, friends and civil society members who came out in full force to provide moral support.

His counsel Gobind Singh Deo said the defence was waiting for further documents from the prosecution before they mapped out their detailed strategy. “We will make several applications and this includes challenging the charge and constitutionality of the law,” said Gobind who is Puchong MP.

Siti Kassim, a member of the Bar Council human rights committee, said yesterday that she was “furious” by the charge and hoped the Bar Council would organise a protest against Azmi’s case. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 3, 2014.