Activists express disappointment with M'sia's move to retain Sedition Act

More than 500 lawyers braved the scorching noon heat in their suits and ties yesterday to protest against the Sedition Act. They say the vague definition of offences under the Act has led to abuse of the law by the Malaysian government, in order to stifle political dissent.

PETALING JAYA - Except for fringe groups, many social activists have expressed disappointment with the move to retain the Sedition Act 1948.

Social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir also expressed surprise with the move, saying: "I assume he (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) had thought long and hard before he said he would abolish it and I hope he gave the same amount of thought to the reversal of the decision.

"As with all laws, they mean nothing no matter what amendments are made if implementation is poor."

Najib had declared at the Umno general assembly yesterday that the Act would not only be retained but strengthened to protect the sanctity of Islam and other religions.

The Umno president said in his policy speech at the party's annual meeting that the Act would also be enforced against those who called for the secession of Sabah and Sarawak from Malaysia.

On July 11, 2012, he had announced that the Act would be repealed and replaced with a National Harmony Act as part of the country's political transformation plan.

Humanitarian Care Malaysia chairman Assoc Prof Dr Hafidzi Mohd Noor asked why was there a need to retain and even reinforce the Sedition Act.

The Government, he said, should embark on a campaign to strengthen national bonds instead.

He said the failure to control extremist tendencies amongst fringe groups that kept on harping on religious and racial issues was the real reason for the tension created in society.

"The Government has what it takes to promote racial harmony and defuse sensitive religious issues.

"If serious efforts are undertaken to nurture mutual respect and celebrate diversity, then bigotry and racist tendencies will have no place to thrive," he said.

Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said the Act was not needed because there were other laws targeting hate speeches.

Moreover, it was targeted at those who challenged the ruling party, she said.

Islamic and Strategic Studies Institute president Dr Yusri Mohamad said the Sedition Act did not have clear provisions for the issues outlined prior to this.

"Thus, it is fair for it to be improved in this aspect, especially the issue of religion, which is very sensitive if we allow just anyone to openly criticise, insult or comment on the subject in an extreme manner," he added.

Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia president Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman said he hoped that with the announcement, tension among the people could be quelled, which he claimed was incited by parties who challenged Islam, dishonour the Malays and challenged the royal institution.