Freedom of Speech: A balance approach
Gerakan slams ‘culture of fear’ via Sedition Act
15 Apr 2016, AM 9:49
Updated 15 Apr 2016, AM 9:57
Gerakan deputy Youth chief Andy Yong has criticised the increased use of the Sedition Act saying creating a culture of fear is taking the country backwards.
Yong was expressing his concerns over the “backsliding” in terms of restrictions on freedom of speech and of the media as not the way of a democratic country.
“It gives a negative perception that sedition and security laws are used to harass, intimidate and silence citizens, academicians, politicians, activists, journalists and bloggers,” he said in a statement today.
The lawyer pointed out how the authorities had tightened restrictions on freedom of expression as government critics, be it in person or online social media as well as online new sites have been victims of charges under the Sedition Act.
“While I agree there cannot be absolute freedom, but creating a culture of fear should not be the way in a democratic and developing nation,” he said.
He however admitted that some restrictions were needed to stop people from abusing and talking against the country, which amounts to sedition.
Yong nevertheless pointed out that criticising the government is one thing, while damaging the name of the country is another.
‘But don’t abuse country’
“We cannot go on abusing or talking against our own country. There are certain parameters unless our allegiance is with some other country or group,” he said.
“I say this because there were cases where Malaysians (especially politicians) spread hate speeches, lies and slanders against their own nation while they were overseas in the name of democracy, freedoms and human rights.”
Yong added that there were also incidents where certain quarters such as political or NGO leaders had intentionally disrupted national harmony with “inappropriate words and action” which cannot be justified in any sense.
“Forget about the strict interpretation of ‘seditious tendency’ as in the Act, ultimately there must be a balance for us to move forward,” he added.
Activist cum lawyer Haris Ibrahim is the latest victim under the Sedition Act, receiving eight months in jail after the Kuala Lumpur High Court found him guilty of sedition yesterday.
Apart from Haris, scores of politicians, activists, academicians and even media practitioners were detained or charged under the Sedition Act.
American Bar: Charges ‘frivolous’
Haris’ conviction has elicited an international outcry, with world rights group Amnesty International calling the move “the latest travesty in a series of politically motivated actions to silence dissent”.
The American Bar Association (ABA) also called the sedition charges “frivolous” and impinges on the right of lawyers to exercise their profession.
“As noted in (ABA’s) letter of March 12, 2015 the Sedition Act appears to have been used to bring frivolous charges against attorneys in retaliation for legitimate activities undertaken in the course of representing clients.
“The ABA Centre for Human Rights recently issued a report which found that the law is vague, over-broad and inconsistent with comparative practice in other common law countries,” said ABA president Paulette Brown in a statement today.
The ABA, she said, urges Malaysia to amend the law “to bring it into compliance with international standards and issue guidance to prosecutors” to ensure the law is not used to prosecute those engaged in legitimate activities.