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Thursday, July 12, 2012
Sedition Act replacement must uphold human rights
By Ida Lim
July 12, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — The Malaysian Bar today welcomed the government's plan to repeal the "repressive" Sedition Act 1948, but stressed that any replacement law must uphold and protect the citizens' "fundamental liberties".
Datuk Seri Najib Razak had yesterday announced that the 64-year-old law will be replaced with the National Harmony Act, which is seen to be part of his raft of legislative reforms to increase civil liberties ahead of elections which must be called by next year.
The Bar's president, Lim Chee Wee (picture), notes that the body still thinks that "replacement legislation, under whatever name, is unnecessary", saying that the country's existing laws such as the Penal Code already contain "sufficient provisions to deal with incitement to racial hatred and other forms of hate speech."
However, the government should take care to protect human rights if it decides to push for the new law, said Lim in a statement today.
"Given the potential for abuse and curtailment of the freedom of speech and expression, the law should be slow to introduce criminal offences," said Lim, adding that "speech and ideas" should not be criminalised.
"Secondly, matters like loyalty, mutual respect and national unity cannot be legislated. These are ideals that have to be gradually developed and naturally cultivated, and not instantly demanded by force of law.
The Bar said the proposed National Harmony Act should not be used to increase "recognition of human rights of Malaysians" and yet at the same time restrict the "expression of those rights in certain respects", citing the recently introduced Peaceful Assembly Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act as examples.
It also welcomed Najib's assurance that the Attorney-General will ensure "proper consultation with all stakeholders", saying that it will help ensure a democracy that is "genuinely inclusive and participative".
Opposition lawmakers and civil society groups have long accused the government of using the British-enacted Sedition Act arbitrarily to limit dissent.
Following the prime minister’s Malaysia Day address last year, the Najib administration has repealed the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), lifted three Emergency Declarations and enacted the Peaceful Assembly Act to regulate public gatherings.
The government has also scrapped the need for annual printing licences in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and lifted the ban on student participation in politics through amendments to the University and University Colleges Act 1971.
Human Rights Watch said it was eyeing with caution the government’s plan to replace the Sedition Act 1948 with a National Harmony law, saying that other “repressive” laws had been replaced with laws just as “bad or worse”.
It said the Sedition Act was “clearly a rights-abusing law” and the replacement law needs to be “consistent with international human rights standards.”