The federal government should respect parliamentary immunity as a democratic right instead of criminalising lawmakers’ speech in Parliament, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said today.
Thursday March 19, 2015 11:44 AM GMT+8
KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 ― The federal government should respect parliamentary immunity as a democratic right instead of criminalising lawmakers’ speech in Parliament, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said today.
Just days after PKR MP Nurul Izzah Anwar was arrested for sedition over her parliamentary speech, Suhakam said it “regrets” the police’s use of the 1948 law to diminish the value of the “parliamentary privilege” principle.
“The Commission registers its serious concern at the latest arrest of a Member of Parliament under the Sedition Act and calls on the authorities to respect and uphold the principle of parliamentary and state assembly privilege accorded to our elected representatives,” Suhakam said in a statement, without naming Nurul Izzah, who is also the daughter of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Suhakam also alluded to DAP lawmaker RSN Rayer’s arrest last year for allegedly uttering seditious words in the Penang state assembly.
Suhakam said today that the privilege of MPs to express their views inside Parliament “without fear or favour” is crucial for a parliamentary democracy to function.
“The Commission emphasises that the freedom of speech and expression in Parliament shall not be impeached or become the basis of criminal proceedings.
“It is therefore essential that Members of Parliament are guaranteed freedom from criminal prosecution, civil suits or superfluous disciplinary action,” Suhakam said.
Suhakam pointed out that parliamentary immunity is not for federal lawmakers’ “personal advantage”, but is instead intended as a “privilege” to ultimately benefit Malaysians as Parliament plays a central role in protecting their basic rights.
It acknowledged that parliamentary privilege was not an absolute immunity, but said penalties must be imposed in proportion to the alleged offending speech.
“While the Commission recognises that there are exceptions to the privileges and immunities enjoyed by Parliamentarians as contained in Articles 63(4) and 72(4) of the Federal Constitution, the Commission reiterates its position that the authorities must ensure proportionality of punishment against Parliamentarians, with due regard to existing measures as provided for under the Standing Orders of Parliament and Assembly,” Suhakam said, saying the right to freedom of speech should always be upheld in the lawmaking body.
On Monday, PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar was arrested and detained overnight for making allegedly seditious remarks in questioning the Federal Court’s decision to convict Anwar.
In Anwar’s speech that Nurul Izzah read out to Parliament last week, he had reportedly criticised his five-year imprisonment for sodomy and claimed that those in the judiciary had sold their souls to the devil.
The last MP to be charged with sedition for parliamentary speech was Barisan Nasional MP Mark Koding in 1982, when he questioned the existence of Chinese and Tamil schools and the use of both languages on signboards.
Koding was subsequently convicted for suggesting the amendment of Article 152 of the Federal Constitution, which pertains to the national language.
Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act 1948 that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but later announced that it will be retained and expanded instead