Open letter to Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak
Dear Mr Prime Minister,
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) notes with increasing alarm the renewed actions undertaken by the Malaysian Police to indiscriminately use the Sedition Act. At the outset, let us be clear in our view that these actions seriously undermine the right to free speech that is protected under Malaysian and international human rights law.
Recently, after the conviction of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim by the Federal Court, an additional four persons have been arrested or called in for investigation under the law for denouncing the verdict. The four include popular political cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, or Zunar, who has had bee previously targeted for persecution under this law, and opposition politicians S. Arutchelvan, Rafizi Ramli and Nga Kor Ming.
A quick profiling of the victims and their alleged ‘offences’ show that the outdated law has been increasingly used against persons mostly identified with the political opposition and civil society. Those investigated/charged also include the frivolous (liking a Facebook page) and outrageous (racist remarks). However, in no way did any of these allegedly seditious statements or acts cause any threat to the prevailing authority or order.
As an elected authority, your government should not have any fear of actions of the electorate and opposition to express criticism and disagreement with policies and actions.
Criticism, debate and disagreement are par for the course in democratic governance. These are essential to ensure the sustainability of government and its institutions, as they are a superior way for mature societies to resolve differences and addressing any oversight in decision-making. For this reason, protecting criticism and disagreement in the context of politics are given greater protection and leeway under freedom of expression principles.
We believe that Malaysia’s Sedition Act is an outdated law, more fitting for a government ruling without mandate from the people, such as a dictatorship or one imposed by an occupying country.
For such reasons, it is imperative that the government repeal the said law and stop its use in the name of religion, law and politics.
We also urge you to call to the Malaysian Police into account for initiating many of these actions involving the sedition law, especially those that are legitimate criticisms of the police and other law enforcement agencies.
The crackdown marks a worrying start to the year, especially since Malaysia is the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2015, when the ASEAN Community is set to begin. Malaysia’s positive action to stop the crackdown under Sedition Law and its immediate repeal will be a strong signal to the rest of the regional community that human rights will be a cornerstone of a people-centred ASEAN.
Eko Maryadi, SEAPA Chairperson
[Note: The number of victims has been adjusted from 25 in the original post to 36, to reflect the count of persons affected and not cases documented]