SUARAM: WAN JI’S JAIL SENTENCE CAN FURTHER CORRODE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The appellate court’s order to Wan Ji Wan Hussin to serve his nine-month prison sentence yesterday is an abomination. Prior to Wan Ji’s case, sedition cases convicted at the High Court or Court of Appeal only involved fines. With the Sedition Act still in place with its ambiguous provisions and disproportionately heavy penalties, Wan Ji’s jail sentence sets a chilling precedent for further unwarranted criminalisation of freedom of expression in Malaysia.
This observation can come full circle if this government continues failing to institute the necessary legislative reforms to uphold freedom of expression. In 2018, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) under the Pakatan Harapan administration not only decided to resume prosecuting Wan Ji under the Sedition Act, but also appealed for a stiffer jail sentence of 1 year. Fast forwarding 5 years later, this appeal was not withdrawn and instead, allowed to continue. Both instances contravened the manifesto promise to abolish the draconian law. It is also noteworthy that some lawmakers from the Pakatan Harapan coalition, namely the current Prime Minister and Minister of Communications and Digital, respectively acknowledged the severity of Wan Ji’s jail sentence and stood in solidarity with him in 2019. Ironically, pin-drop silence is what we see now.
Freedom of expression is not some fashionable privilege of the day to be championed when in opposition and withdrawn when in power. “Hurt(ing) other people’s feelings”, and in this case public figures, is not a sufficient basis for criminalisation of freedoms of opinion and expression. By continuing to enforce the Sedition Act, the government will continue to betray the spirit of democracy – by sanctioning self-censorship, stifling crucial debates on matter of public interest, and victimising individuals who tend to speak out such as human rights defenders and political dissidents.
As long as the Sedition Act remains enforced, it will continue to be used and misused, with no possibility of fully exercising freedom of expression in sight. The Sedition Act must go.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) stands in solidarity with Wan Ji and strongly condemns the jail sentence that he has received. We demand the government to demonstrate its commitment to uphold freedom of expression by implementing the following:
A plan to repeal the Sedition Act with a clear timeline, and pending its repeal to enforce a moratorium on all cases.
Drop all charges under the Sedition Act, with immediate release of those detained.