KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — Putrajaya should abolish the Sedition Act 1948 instead of entertaining “escapisms” such as a local Facebook alternative to curb seditious content, according to critics of the colonial-era law.
Variously describing the law as antiquated, regressive and abusive, they noted that the problem was the Act itself rather than how to restrict Malaysian discourse to fall within its confines.
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said Tan Sri Rais Yatim’s proposal on Friday for Malaysia to emulate China by creating a local Facebook replacement to control sedition painted the former information minister as “old fashioned, totally irrelevant in this age”.
“A new Facebook like China is not only expensive, it doesn't serve the purpose. It's not foolproof. It's not effective. The effective way to prevent sedition is to repeal the Act,” the former de facto law minister told Malay Online yesterday.
The Sedition Act should no longer be used against Malaysians who are “loyal” citizens in a free country, he said, adding that sedition is only a “big issue” for the government because it cannot accept criticism.
National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) member Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah described the suggestion as “an escapism from not being able to be in sync with new realities and an effort against the repealing of the Sedition Act.”
“Democracy is no longer about voting every five years, but people want to have a role in decision-making in all aspects and levels,” the former deputy minister explained. “China is not a good example. Unless we believe in less democracy.”
Saifuddin said it was “pointless to replace Facebook” as new technologies will continue to emerge, adding that Putrajaya should “encourage debates” to the public sphere and end “the culture of fear”.
The Sedition Act should also be replaced with better laws such as NUCC’s proposed Harmony bills, he said.
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan questioned if Rais’ suggestion was intended to help Putrajaya regain its control and monopoly on information that it once had before the advent of the Internet and.
“If they shut down Facebook, it is censorship, then the MSC Bill of Guarantees where one of the guarantees is non-censorship of Internet will just be an empty guarantee,” he said.
He also said the word “sedition” is being abused by Putrajaya to “restrict freedom of expression, freedom of speech”.
“If you look at sedition under the Act, it is so wide. When they say ‘sedition’, what they mean is ‘we want topeople from saying things we don’t like,” said the chairman of the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee spearheading the #MansuhAktaHasutan (Abolish Sedition Act) campaign.
Another civil liberties lawyer, Eric Paulsen, said Rais’ suggestion was “without merit because Malaysia instead of going backwards should be moving forward towards more openness, transparency and flow of information”.
“If Malaysia were to take such a drastic and backward step, it would cause Malaysia to be left far behind while other emerging nations would leapfrog Malaysia’s progress,” the co-founder of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said.
Rais, who is now the Social and Cultural Affairs Advisor to the Government, said yesterday that he had submitted his proposal to the Attorney-General, urging for his idea to be studied immediately.
Earlier this month, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek reportedly said Putrajaya has no intention of shutting down Facebook, saying it was an “impossible” move as Malaysia has some 15 million users.
The government was forced yesterday to deny that the recent spate of sedition investigations and prosecutions were selectively targeted, insisting that it did not control the judiciary while reiterating its commitment to abolish the law.