ASEAN parliamentarians urge Malaysia to repeal Sedition Act and other repressive laws

General Press Releases Wednesday August 8, 2018 10:23
Bangkok--8 Aug--ASEAN Parliamentarian Human Rights
Malaysia's new government must make good on promises to repeal the Sedition Act and other repressive laws used to silence critics and restrict fundamental freedoms, legislators from Southeast Asia said today.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged the new Pakatan Harapan government, which took office in May 2018, to fulfil its campaign commitment to repeal a range of draconian laws. Malaysia's parliament is currently in session until 16 August and is expected to review laws that are incompatible with Malaysia's international human rights obligations, including the controversial Anti-Fake News Act.

"For years, Malaysian authorities have relied on and misused a catalogue of repressive laws to restrict public debate and jail critics. This new government has the mandate and responsibility to change course by repealing or amending these, including the Sedition Act – it's an opportunity that cannot be missed," said APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

"We urge the Pakatan Harapan coalition to take concrete steps towards legal reform before the current parliamentary session ends. This would send a powerful signal that the new government is serious in its commitments to prioritize human rights and good governance. It would also provide inspiration and belief to democratic actors across our embattled region that the winds of change have turned and are once again blowing in the right direction across Southeast Asia."

The overly broad Sedition Act can carry a punishment of three to seven years in prison for vaguely worded offences, including acting with "seditious tendency" against the government. The former Barisan National government used the law to harass and imprison critics, including human rights defenders, academics, journalists and lawyers. Despite committing to repeal the law in 2012, the former government instead rushed through amendments to it in 2015 that increased the number of seditious offences.

The Sedition Act has also frequently been used against opposition parliamentarians, undermining the country's democracy. In 2016, for example, People's Justice Party MP and APHR member Tian Chua was sentenced to three months in prison and fined more than 400 USD after delivering a speech denouncing racism and corruption.

While it is positive that a number of sedition cases – including against high-profile individuals such as cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar "Zunar" Ulhaque, human rights lawyer N. Surendran and MP R. Sivarasa – have already been withdrawn, APHR today urged the Attorney General's office to step up its efforts and drop all remaining cases under the Sedition Act against those who have done nothing but peacefully exercise their human rights.

In its election manifesto, the Pakatan Harapan committed to repealing a list of "tyrannical" laws, including the Sedition Act, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. The coalition also pledged to create a climate where media outlets can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.

"Across Southeast Asia, many authoritarian leaders are in a 'race to the bottom' when it comes to restricting human rights and the freedom of expression. From Manila, to Yangon, to Bangkok, parliamentarians, journalists and rights defenders are risking their own safety and freedom simply by carrying out their work," said Teddy Baguilat, APHR Board Member and a member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines.

"People are now looking to Malaysia to set a positive example for the region, and to show that the dangerous trend of shrinking space for rights is reversible. We hope the new government will seize this chance."

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