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Malaysia urged to release lawyer, abolish Sedition Act

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed that the Sedition Act is still being utilised in the recent investigation against lawyer and Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen. Paulsen had reportedly published a tweet calling on the government to take extremism seriously and accusing the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) of promoting extremism through its Friday sermons. The tweet was subsequently removed by Paulsen after he clarified that he was not insulting Islam but criticising Jakim as a government agency.

As CIJ has previously stated, the Sedition Act is an extremely broad act which, amongst others, makes it an offence to excite disaffection against the government and to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population. This goes beyond legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression. Legitimate restrictions should be focused on direct and immediate threats to national security, public order and public morality such as hate speech which incites violence towards individuals or groups. Such restrictions need to be clearly and specifically defined, however the Sedition Act's restrictions are so broad that any kind of expression could potentially be captured within its ambit, which is deeply problematic.

It is clear that there are members of the government and politicians who do not agree with the content of Paulsen's tweet on Jakim. Any disagreement should be countered firstly and primarily through discussion and debate and a clarification of the facts. Jakim is a government agency, and the government has wide-ranging access to the media if it wishes to correct any information it feels is false or misleading. It does not need to resort to silencing those whom it disagrees with.

It is troubling that the police have chosen to arrest Paulsen, reportedly with a group of 20 police officers, and opened investigations under the Sedition Act. He has also been remanded for two days. This does little to promote healthy discussion around the functions of Jakim as a government agency and its actual role in the dissemination of sermons at mosques during Friday prayers. That state agencies, with the support of the Malaysian government, are choosing to forcibly silence its critics demonstrates an autocratic state that is failing the democratic ideals of Malaysian citizens.

CIJ also is of the view that it is unnecessary for comments regarding Jakim to be immediately interpreted by politicians as comments against Islam. Although Jakim is involved in the development of Islam in Malaysia, it is also a government body which can be held accountable for its actions. Any discussion surrounding the functions and ambit of Jakim therefore cannot be removed from public discussion.

CIJ calls for the immediate release of Paulsen and the dropping of all investigation and/or charges against him. We reiterate our demand for the abolishment of the Sedition Act which has clearly been used to silence government critics, including most recently, social activist Hishamuddin Rais, who was found guilty of sedition and fined RM5,000.

Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee
13 Jan 2015

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Malaysia: Growing intolerance as human rights lawyer arrested

    "The arrest of Eric Paulsen is deeply troubling and is emblematic of the Malaysian government's political use of the Sedition Act to silence its critics", said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. "The Malaysian government must work to reverse the growing intolerance in the country, rather than supporting it through draconian laws and severely limiting the right to freedom of expression in the country."

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