Putrajaya has shrugged off concerns by international observers and foreign countries on the amendments to the Sedition Act, saying that their views were “normal”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman acknowledged that Malaysia’s strengthening of the act had attracted attention from other countries, human rights groups and the global media, which were concerned about the law’s impact on the freedom of expression.
“They feel the Malaysian government’s actions are a restriction to the freedom of speech and human rights. Such action is also not in line with the moderate principles promoted by the Malaysian government on the world stage.
“However, it should be remembered that such views are normal and usually expressed by foreign parties.” he told Datuk Shamsul Anuar Nasarah (BN – Lenggong) in a written reply.
Putrajaya passed amendments to the act, which critics had charged would make the law more draconian.
The amendments to the colonial-era law also did away with fines and imposed a jail term of between three and seven years, as well as up to 20 years’ jail for seditious acts or statements that led to bodily harm and property damage.
There is also no leniency for first-time and youthful offenders, who can be automatically slapped with a minimum three-year sentence.
The act now empowers the court to order the removal of seditious material on the Internet.
The changes also remove criticism of the government or the administration of justice as something seditious, and make promoting hatred between different religions an offence.
Putrajaya has been on a sedition blitz against numerous opposition politicians, activists, academics, lawyers, journalists and Muslim preachers who have either been charged with sedition, are facing trial, or under investigation under the law.
Just ten days before the amendments were passed, two senior executives and three editors from The Edge and The Malaysian Insider were arrested under the act over a report published on March 25, which said the Conference of Rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that would pave the way for hudud to be enforced in Kelantan.
In defending the act, Anifah said changes made to it were aimed at maintaining harmony between the races as well as stability and unity among Malaysians.
He said the Foreign Affairs Ministry had informed all foreign representatives in Malaysia the government’s reasoning for strengthening the act.
Putrajaya has drawn flak for retaining the act instead of repealing it as first promised in 2012. – May 21, 2015.