Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Sedition Act is Constitutional After All

Yesterday, oppressive clouds hovered over the country and blanketing us with gloom and doom. The Federal court had declared the Sedition Act 1948 constitutional!  

Universiti Malaya law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom (left) had lost his constitutional challenge against the repulsive law and will have to stand trial for issuing an allegedly seditious remark.
On September 02 last year, Azmi pleaded not guilty to the principal charge under Section 4(1)(b) and an alternative charge under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court for a remark he made in an article published on Malay Mail Online. Section 4(1)(b) covers “uttering any seditious words” while Section 4(1)(c) deals with individuals who publish seditious publications, among other things. If convicted under either charge for his quotes in the article titled “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told”, the UM associate professor could face a maximum fine of RM5,000, a maximum three-year jail term or both.
In dismissing Azmi’s bid, the country’s highest court had ruled that the British-enacted law remains a constitutional and valid piece of legislation. It also ruled that Section 4 of the Sedition Act under which Azmi was charged is constitutional.
Azmi’s lawyers had already argued that the Sedition Act 1948 is not a valid law as it was not enacted by Parliament, which they said held the exclusive authority under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution to enact law restricting the rights to freedom of speech.
But the Federal Court agreed with the government’s argument that the Sedition Act 1948 is saved by Article 162 of the Federal Constitution, despite it being a law that was enacted before the Parliament came into existence after Merdeka. In its 'wisdom', the court had decided that the Sedition Act was considered as such an “existing law”.
It would be interesting and even illuminating to read the written judgment to try and understand this 'learned' decision – before I comment on it, assuming I want to. But I am stoutly maintaining that the Sedition Act is unconstitutional in the first place. But given this ruling, it gives the Najib government the space and platform to continue to silence political dissent. Democracy is dying.
Malaysian human rights and law reform group Lawyers for Liberty said that it was extremely disappointed with the verdict “that upheld the constitutionality of the Sedition Act despite its manifest antiquated, illiberal and undemocratic nature”.
This particular ruling will surely affect about thirty-odd politicians and activists‎ who have been charged under the act during the past year in what Malaysian alternative media largely refer to as a “sedition dragnet” – and many concern criticism targeted at PM Najib Razak and/or his government.
I was in Cyberjaya, Selangor yesterday to attend a lunchtime meeting of the Dell Cyberspeakers Toastmasters Club. I was the General Evaluator.

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