Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is shock and gravely troubled by the conviction of Safwan Anang, former chairperson of Solidarity Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM) by the Kuala Lumpur Session Court today. The judgment will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and opinion of public members and it marks a worrying sliding back of democracy for the country.
Safwan Anang was sentenced to 10 month of imprisonment for allegedly uttered words of seditious tendency and encouraged the public to topple a legitimate government through illegal means on 13 May 2013. He was convicted for committing the offence under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act 1948. His was granted a stay of execution pending appeal with a RM15,000 bail.
It is the right of any citizen to campaign for a change of government in a functioning democracy. There should not be criminalization of speech. After all, this is what democracy is about – freedom for the citizens to choose a better government. Safwan was convicted for merely exercising his rights to freedom of expression and the right to take part in the government of the country, directly or through freely chosen representatives as guaranteed under Article 19 and Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His action is perfectly legitimate and falls within the system of democracy as he has not resort to violence.
Any government, organization and individual that has a sincere desire for progress and reform should appreciate the benefit of objective and constructive criticism. A responsible government must not suppress the expression of any individual who criticizes the establishment. Instead, it should embrace criticism from the public in order to improve its performance in serving the people.
The conviction of Safwan Anang, once again reaffirms public criticism that the Act is anti thesis to freedom of expression and democratic principles and a tool for the government to suppress criticism of the government. Any legitimate comments or criticism of the government can be easily construed as having “seditious tendency” under the Sedition Act 1948 by the authorities. The act is repressive, outdated and irrelevant in this 21st century. It has no place in a democratic society.
The Sedition Act was established in Malaysia by the British in 1948, with the intention of oppressing of freedom of expression and curbing any opposition’s effort to fight for independence. It is an ironic that this archaic piece of legislation remains with us even after 57 years of independence and for worst, we see a recent sedition crackdown which many had named it as “Operasi Lalang II” against lawmakers, politicians, activists, lawyers, academician, journalists and the ordinary citizens.
It is of utmost disappointment that despite the Prime Minister’s pledge on 11 July 2012 and 3 July 2013 to repeal the act, the act is now increasingly used to intimidate and penalise our fellow Malaysians for having an opinion and wanting improvement for the country.
If the prime minister is to retain any public confidence in his promises, he has to put a stop to this insane sedition dragnet and repeal the Sedition Act immediately.
Yap Swee Seng