PETALING JAYA- Lawmakers, lawyers, activists and policy makers are generally united in their opinion - it is time to repeal the 66-year old Sedition Act, and not replace it with a new one.
"If you want to keep peace and harmony, we already have the Penal Code, which also covers those who wish to overthrow the government through violent means. When you talk about people who wish to incite harm on others on the basis of race or religion, the Penal Code also covers that," said constitutional lawyer Syahredzan Johan.
Under Section 121 of the Penal Code, anyone who wages war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, a Ruler or the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of a state can face a death sentence or one of life imprisonment, while under Section 505 of the Penal Code, anyone who incites people to commit crimes against another group or class of people faces a maximum two year jail term, fine or both.
"When you talk about those who try to excite disaffection against the administration of justice, the courts can call people up for contempt. So the whole argument that the Sedition Act is needed to protect national harmony is wrong because harmony doesn't come from penalizing and punishing people. Harmony comes through tolerance and understanding, not through pain of punishment," said Syahredzan.
He added that if some laws were needed to preserve public order, any replacement law should strike a balance between protecting public order and upholding freedom of speech.
The Sedition Act 1948 states that a statement would be deemed seditious if it has a tendency to cause disaffection against any Ruler or the government, as laid down in Section 3(1)(a) of the Act.
Section 3 defines what constitutes words or actions with a "seditious tendency", an essential element of an offence of sedition, which is defined in Sections 4(1)(b) and 4 (1)(c) of the Act. Among other points, words or acts with "seditious tendencies" include those which could create disaffection against the administration of justice as defined under Section 3(1)(c).
Section 3(1)(e) also defines words or acts as having seditious tendencies if they can promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia.
With regards to offences, Sections 4(1)(b) and 4 (1)(c) state that anyone commits sedition if they utter any seditious words, or prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication, with "seditious" being defined as anything with a "seditious tendency".