KUALA LUMPUR: The use of the Sedition Act 1948 to curb freedom of expression took a backseat this year, with related offences largely falling under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), a Suaram report found.
The 55-page Suaram human rights report overview, which was launched today, said there were nine known documented cases under the Sedition Act, while the CMA had 146.
“While the overall reduction in arrest, detention and prosecution under the Sedition Act is a welcome improvement, the documented cases in 2017 suggests that the Act still stands as one of the more noteworthy laws in restricting freedom of expression, despite the existence of other more well-used legal provisions,” the report said.
Suaram’s programme coordinator Dobby Chew told the media that such a trend has happened before, where there was a sharp rise in the use of the Sedition Act, after the Internal Security Act (ISA) was abolished.
A similar situation was now persisting, with the increase in the application of the CMA after civil society groups strongly campaigned against the Sedition Act.
Chew pointed out that since the provisions under the CMA was very wide and very broad, it made prosecution very easy.
There also appeared to be very few legal challenges against CMA cases, where most of those charged under the CMA tended to plead guilty at the first available opportunity.
The Sedition Act, on the other hand, has seen many legal challenges, Chew said, with three or four trials currently ongoing.
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy also weighed in on the matter, saying that using new laws as a means to curb freedom of expression was a tactic used by the ruling party to keep civil society groups from strategising.
“For instance, when civil society groups came together and campaigned against the Sedition Act, the powers that be started to use CMA.
“It is clearly to keep you busy to fight the laws. They are very smart. They don’t let you strategise,” he said.
In general, the report stated that human rights violations this year followed largely the same trend in the preceding years.
The issue of freedom of expression and the actions of religious authorities was also raised in the report. Particular mention was made of how Turkish scholar Mustafa Akyol was arrested and detained by the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) in September, following a talk he had given on the commonalities between the Abrahamaic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Children held under Sosma
Detention without trial also continued to persist this year, with more than 989 individuals arrested and detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act since its inception in April 2012, with the shocking revelation that 159 minors were also held under this law.
The appointment of Raus Sharif as Chief Justice and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as Court of Appeal president revived the concern for judicial independence in Malaysia.
The report stated that the legal fraternity and civil society expressed their concern over the legality and constitutionality of their appointments, with regards to their retirement and reappointment as additional judges, while retaining their senior judicial appointments.