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Despite talk of reform, sedition charges and threats against Malaysian media

Authorities try to take a microphone from university student leader Fahmi Moktar as he calls for the repeal of the Sedition Act, 5 September 2014
Authorities try to take a microphone from university student leader Fahmi Moktar as he calls for the repeal of the Sedition Act, 5 September 2014

REUTERS/Olivia Harris

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is disappointed with Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's reported comment that an article from theSun should be retracted, otherwise he "knows what to do." Given that the home minister has the power to suspend or revoke newspapers' licences under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, this statement is a threat to theSun and its journalist. This is especially so given the recent spate of sedition cases and investigations, including the arrest of Malaysiakini journalist Susan Loone, for reporting on a Penang executive councillor's remarks on his arrest and treatment by police.

Zahid was referring to an article that appeared in theSun on 1 Sep 2014 entitled "Non-Malays getting arrogant", says Ahmad Zahid. Zahid has since clarified that he was not, in fact, referring to non-Malays but to the DAP [Democratic Action Party]. He has implied that something was lost in translation by asking theSun reporter to "brush up on [his] Malay before [he] writes the news in English."

CIJ states categorically that if the minister believed that his remarks had been mistranslated or taken out of context, he should have contacted theSun and requested a correction. There is no need to make ominous threats. This intensifies the culture of fear in a media climate that is already classified as 'not free' by international press organisations.

The sedition investigation against Susan Loone and Zahid's remarks towards theSun also constitute a backtracking of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's commitment to a "strong and vibrant media" as an "essential part of a mature democracy" as stated on 26 May 2014.

In addition, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim has stated that a majority of Umno divisions want the Sedition Act retained and the Internal Security Act restored. This is in direct contradiction of our prime minister's stated intentions for the Sedition Act to be repealed and for the rakyat [people] to enjoy "a better right to freedom of speech and expression." We thus call on the Cabinet and the government to fulfil our prime minister's stated intentions and not to thwart his programme of progressive reform, helping to bring Malaysia's legislation in line with the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, Suhakam, and international human rights standards.

CIJ reiterates that the Sedition Act must be repealed. The sentencing to 10 months' jail of activist Safwan Anang for sedition has renewed calls of selective prosecution, given its wide-ranging provisions. Freedom of expression is protected by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, and by international human rights standards. Prosecution must involve demonstrating a direct and immediate connection between the speech uttered and a genuine threat to national security, public order and public morality. The Sedition Act, as it stands, allows speech to be silenced without demonstrating any such connection. This has led to the Act being used arbitrarily as a political tool of the ruling Barisan Nasional.

7 Sep 2014
Sonia Randhawa
Director, Centre for Independent Journalism

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Malaysian journalist detained, threatened with sedition

    In recent weeks, Najib's government has used the sedition law to target opposition politicians, academics, and activists, according to news reports. Authorities have cracked down on the political opposition as it seeks to gain parliamentary control of a pivotal state and weaken the government's grip on power.

  • Malaysia: Sedition Act wielded to silence opposition

    The Malaysian government is increasingly using the Sedition Act to instill fear and silence in political opponents and critics . . . The Sedition Act prohibits vague offenses such as uttering "any seditious words" without defining what constitutes "sedition" or "seditious words."

  • Government must stop ongoing crackdown and honour its pledge to repeal the Sedition Act

    SEAPA joins 32 organizations across Asia in reminding the Malaysian Prime Minister of a pledge to repeal the colonial-era Sedition Act, amid the ongoing wave of arrests under this law.

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