Malaysia: Repeal the Sedition Law and stop the crackdown on freedom of expression


FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights

and its member organization in Malaysia

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

Joint Press Release

Paris, Kuala Lumpur, 25 September 2014: The Malaysian government must immediately repeal the 1948 Sedition Law and stop its ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression, FIDH and its member organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) said today.

On 23 September, police announced they would question opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on 26 September as part of a sedition investigation stemming from a speech he made during a political rally in Gombak, Selangor State, on 25 March 2011. Anwar is the latest victim of a government-backed campaign that has targeted opposition politicians and government critics.

Since May 2013, 19 people, including five MPs, activists, and an academic, have been charged under the Sedition Law. At least 28 more people, including a journalist, three lawyers, and two MPs, have been investigated under the same law.

The Sedition Law is a relic of the past which has no place in modern Malaysia. It clearly falls short of international standards on freedom of expression and must be urgently repealed,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji urged. “The Sedition Law’s overly broad scope and outdated provisions have become an effective tool to silence legitimate voices of dissent,” he added.

The 1948 Sedition Law criminalizes any speech or publication that has a “seditious tendency.” The same law defines “seditious tendency” as one that: 1) causes “hatred or contempt” or disaffection against the government; 2) incites the “alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;” 3) promotes “feelings of ill will and hostility between different races.”

“Just as the British used the Sedition Law to quell opposition against their colonial rule, the current administration uses that law to target its opponents,” said SUARAM Executive Director Yap Swee Seng. “It is very troubling to see that the government continues to hold the civil liberties of the Malaysian people hostage to a law enacted over 60 years ago when the United Kingdom abolished the offenses of sedition and seditious libel in 2010,” he added.

On 11 July 2012, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak stated that the Sedition Law would be repealed as part of planned legislative reforms. On 2 July 2013, Najib maintained that the Sedition Law would be repealed and replaced by a new National Harmony Act. Most recently, Najib reiterated his commitment for repeal on 5 September 2014.

However, his pledges remain unfulfilled and the number of prosecutions for sedition has increased sharply in recent times. Over the past month alone, seven people have been charged under the Sedition Law.

In addition, in September two activists were sentenced to prison terms on sedition charges. On 5 September, a Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur sentenced student activist Safwan Anang, 24, to 10 months in prison under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Law. Safwan was found guilty of sedition for inciting the public to topple the government in a speech he made at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur on 13 May 2013. Safwan was released on 15,000 ringgit (US$4,750) bail pending appeal.

On 19 September, a Session Court in Kuala Lumpur sentenced student activist Adam Adli, 25, to one year in prison under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Law. Adam was found guilty of sedition for statements he made on 13 May 2013, when he urged people to protest against the hotly disputed general election results. Adam was released on 5,000 ringgit (US$1,583) bail pending appeal.

The convictions of Safwan Anang and Adam Ali follow a high profile conviction on sedition charges earlier in the year. On 21 February, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Karpal Singh, then Chairman of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), guilty under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Law. On 11 March, the same court sentenced him to a 4,000 ringgit (US$1,220) fine. Karpal Singh died in a car accident on 17 April.

Press contacts:

Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66 88 6117722 (Bangkok)

Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)

Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

Yap Swee Seng (English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin) – Tel: +60 12 2015272 (Kuala Lumpur)