The pressing of charges on Sedition Act 1948 recently had shown the shadow of another draconian law which had been abolished - The Internal Security Act (ISA).
The then Home Minister told the public that the government arrested a journalist and Teresa Kok (Seputeh MP) under ISA was based on protection offered to them. However, the much debatable Sedition Act is now being utilised to persecute the opposition, and even academician.
Yesterday, an associate law professor from University Malaya, Azmi Sharom was charged under S4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act with S4(1)(c) as alternative charge. Both charges carry a jail term up to three years or maximum RM5,000 or both upon conviction.
(picture taken from Malaysian Insider)
What amounts to Seditious?
Under the said Act, "Seditious" means any act or speech or word or publication qualifies as having "Seditious Tendency".
"Seditious Tendency" is given a wide interpretation under the Act. It covers, inter-alia, to bring hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or any against government, and also to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population in Malaysia.
This could explain why the government may press charges on a student who had "liked" a facebook page entitled "I Love Israel", as the liking act amounted to an act in promoting feelings of ill will among the muslims in Malaysia.
Prosecuting the opposition appears not extraordinary in our political phenomena. However, charging an academician from a well established public higher learning institution is the first time. I have taken the opportunity to read the statements uttered by Prof Azmi Sharom that allegedly seditious enough to promote hatred in the country.
Prof Azmi Sharom had made the statements below, which had been published in an online news portal's article, entitled "Take Perak Crisis Route For Speedy End To Selangor Impasse, Pakatan Told", when he commented on the perak constitutional crisis after the 308 general election as an constitutional expert.
“You don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place,” the University of Malaya lecturer said, referring to the Perak crisis.
“I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible.”
Personally, I believe the seditious content lies on the words "where a secret meeting took place", and possibly "I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong." It should be noted that the prosecution did not read out the seditious statements in the court room.
To understand the factor that motivated the prosecution, we should at least understand how Prof Azmi Sharom came to such comment. "A secret meeting took place" essentially refers to a private, or I would rather call it an [Informal Meeting] between the 31 BN/pro-BN assemblyman led by PM and the late HRH Sultan Perak Azlan Shah, after 3 Pakatan ADUN from Perak State Assembly quit PKR and DAP and thereafter pledged their support to Barisan Nasional.
The questions raised in and outside the court room were whether the then Pakatan MB Nizar Jamaluddin would have to lead the executive council (EXCO) to resign after the late HRH refused to dissolve the State Assembly in accordance to the Perak Constitution, and also whether the late HRH possessed executive power to remove Nizar as MB Perak without a vote of no-confidence being moved in the state assembly. I strongly believe this was the "secret meeting" referred by Prof Azmi Sharom.
I adhere to the Attorney General's absolute discretion to initiate prosecution enshrined under the Federal Constitution. However, selective prosecution matters now. We have not seen other extremists like Ridhuan Tee or Ibrahim Ali being charged under the Sedition Act for the time being. Nonetheless, the iron claw of Sedition Act even slipped into learning institution and attack the academic freedom.
Government officials said, it is now a matter for the court to decide, which in turn the judiciary must shows faith and courage in defending the pillars of rule of law, by acting as guardian of the people.
True enough, I have not seen how seditious are the academic criticisms made by Prof Azmi Sharom. I agree that the state has liberty to charge anyone as she deems fit and proper, notwithstanding it could be seen as a political move in doing so. However, under major circumstances, the people and civil society will press for a change, resulting in a serious political consequence.
The authority seems have gone into a berserk state to utilise the Act. Instead, it is seductive enough to behave so.
I would be more prepared to see, how the judiciary going to react with these malicious and selective prosecution initiated under an extremely old statute left by the colonial master, where the primary purpose was to combat communist insurgents at that time.
Similar with ISA, the Sedition Act has become a seductive tool for the government to prevent academician from purportedly inciting people to rebel against them, which is wrong. Law must cause justice to be done and seen to be done. Any old laws must be amended to fit and suit the current society progressive development.
The Sedition Act must go now. #MansuhAktaHasutan