Amnesty alarmed by crackdown on dissent

It says the use of the Sedition Act is creating a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of expression.

September 5, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: Amnesty International has condemned Malaysia’s use of the Sedition Act against people expressing their political or religious views, saying it is “fostering a climate of repression” in the country.

“The use of this law is creating a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in the country,” Laura Haigh of the Amnesty secretariat in London said in a press statement today.

She said, “Malaysia must end its alarming use of the Sedition Act to criminalise activists, opposition politicians, journalists, students and academics.”

In the last month, up to seven people – five opposition politicians, a journalist and an academic – have been charged or placed under investigation for making allegedly seditious comments or statements.

The latest three arrests were made only one day apart from each other, Amnesty noted.

Last Tuesday, Azmi Sharom of Universiti Malaya became the first academic to have been charged for his alleged seditious remarks relating to the 2009 political crisis in Perak.

On Wednesday, opposition politician David Orok from Sabah was charged with sedition for allegedly insulting Islam and Prophet Muhammad on his social media page.

Yesterday, journalist Susan Loone was arrested in connection with an article which allegedly defamed the police.

Haigh said, “The increasing use of the Sedition Act to suppress the views and opinions of opposition politicians and other critical voices as well as ordinary individuals who are simply expressing their opinions on a range of issues is fostering a climate of repression in Malaysia.”

Amnesty International has long expressed concern about the 1948 Sedition Act, a legacy of the British colonial era, which it said had been used to stifle dissent and criminalise peaceful activists and opposition in the past.

Haigh noted that the act criminalises a wide array of acts, including those “with a tendency to excite disaffection against any ruler or government” or to “question any matter” protected by the Federal Constitution.

“It does not comply with international human rights law and violates the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also guaranteed in Article 10 of Malaysia’s Constitution,” said Haigh.

She pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2012 publicly committed to repealing the law, stating that it represented “a bygone era”.

“Two years later, that promise has not been fulfilled,” she said.

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to deliver on his promise to repeal the Sedition Act and to drop all charges against those criminalised for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

“We are also reiterating our longstanding calls on the Malaysian authorities to ratify the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights at the earliest opportunity, incorporate its provisions into domestic law and implement it in policy and practice.”