Sedition law skewed the balance between free speech and public good
Malaysia is at the cross roads. Should draconian and repressive laws like the Sedition Act which criminalises speech and expression be relegated to the dustbin of history in the country’s march forward to greater openness, democracy and a just rule of law? This study on the Sedition Act 1948 by Jayaseelen Anthony cannot be more timely to contribute to the national debate on a new Malaysia built on genuine democracy, freedom, justice and solidarity of a plural society of diverse races, religions, cultures and languages.
Justice delayed is justice denied has become a common parlance for expressing anger over the miscarriage of justice anywhere in the world. But most of the times people’s memory fades and they forget about injustices and ultimately it does not take much time for things to get back to normal.
India as a nation has seen many miscarriages of justice. There have been many instances when people accused got away scot free while the victims and their kins kept waiting for justice only to know that justice can never be theirs.
observed that terms such as ‘grossly offensive’ were vague – making it difficult for both law enforcement agencies and potential offenders to know the ingredients of the offence! susceptible to misuse, to muzzle free speech.This was precisely the result of application of Sedition law as cases started pouring in that clearly highlighted the draconian nature of the law. Most recently, the provision was used for allegedly posting material against Rosmahwas applied even though there was hardly any evidence that the actions of the accused constituted a larger danger to public or individuals. Yet different state administrations have arbitrarily used the provision to muzzle IT content. This also flies in the face of government’s assurance in court that it would ensure the provision isn’t misused Plus the internet has become a part of everyday life. To see this as a danger is wrong. On the contrary IT communication platforms empower citizens and shore up accountability in democracy. Besides the law already provides for reasonable restrictions on free speech and criminalises offences such as incitement to violence. Seen in this context, Section 66A skewed the constitutional balance between freedom of expression and public good. It’s better scrapped from the statute books.
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In a democracy the people are supreme and all authorities, whether President or Prime Minister of India, other ministers, judges, legislators, bureaucrats, police, army and so on are servants of the people. Since the people are the masters and judges their servants, the people have a right to criticise judges just as a master has the right to criticise his servant.Why should Indian judges be so touchy? When the House of Lords delivered the judgment in the 1987 Spycatcher case, a prominent newspaper published as its headline “You Fools”.
The sedition law, introduced by the British in Malaysia , outlaws speech that "brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in Malaysia." The penalty for running afoul of the statute: up to life imprisonment.
Sedition law is archaic and draconian. It was introduced by the British to keep political leaders in jail.Sedition law is a weapon in the hand of the state. It can be misused by the state in many ways. If somebody is charged with sedition, it will take a long time to get the bail and come out. The punishment is also very harsh.
This is what the Sedition law says -
Sedition.-- Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards The expression" disaffection" includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2.- Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3.- Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.]
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Former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan has told off de facto law minister Nancy Shukri over her statement that it is “disrespectful but not unlawful” to table amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 now.
The people need to understand how little respect Putrajaya has for the country's judiciary, said former Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, after the government yesterday tabled amendments to the Sedition Act, which will also include Azmi then filed an application, saying that Section 4 was unconstitutional and violated Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. The case was referred to the Federal Court.