Police invoked colonial-era law due for repeal
The investigation and arrest of the blogger Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris, also known as “Papagomo,” on 29 November 2018 over an allegedly seditious video posted on Facebook is “particularly worrying,” said the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in a press statement. (Please see below.)
According to police, the controversial post was “an attempt to incite the public over racial issues.”
In October 2018, the Cabinet suspended the Sedition Act of 1948 – one of two oppressive laws Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan coalition pledged to repeal, alongside the death penalty – as part of its reform agenda.
The use of the Sedition law despite the moratorium “is a step backwards, giving the impression that there is a continuing need for this colonial piece of legislation,” said CIJ director Sonia Randhawa.
In its statement, “CIJ urges the repeal of the Sedition Act, and the passage of a Media Freedom Act, which would clearly set out the limits of freedom of speech through the use of clear exemptions to the right.”
Section 298A of the Penal Code, which prosecutes inciting violence or of hate speech, “has a tighter definition of what constitutes a crime,” added CIJ, “Freedom of speech and expression cannot be underestimated in the prevention of widespread racial violence.”
CIJ’s proposed Media Freedom Act should “clearly set out the limits of freedom of speech through the use of clear exemptions to the right, what it means to do harm to those exemptions and when those exemptions themselves might not apply due to a larger public interest.”
“Thus, for instance, in an instance of heightened tension, a video that is likely to spark unrest or violence could be prosecuted as ‘hate speech’ or incitement to violence, because at the time when the video was published, it was likely to jeopardise public safety,” said CIJ.
Prior to Mahathir’s return to power following the historic May 2018 general elections, human rights organizations and experts had expressed alarmed over the systematic use of the law against critics of the government and urged the government to scrap it.