Tasked to draft a replacement to the Sedition Act 1948, two members of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) today expressed surprise and dismay over Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s shock announcement that the controversial law will stay.
Noting that the announcement was made during the on-going Umno General Assembly today, NUCC member Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa also questioned the intent in breaking the pledge that has been made thrice publicly.
“I think this is, unfortunately, just to please the Umno delegates who are now having their yearly meeting,” the Parit Buntar MP said.
“If the intention was to please them, that is most unfortunate, because we are looking at the issue of Sedition Act from a substantive point, because standard of proof for this act is very low and does not address racial and religious incitement.”
The NUCC has been pushing for the law to be eliminated, contending that its ambit is too broad as it criminalises speech with an undefined “seditious tendency” and without need to prove intent.
Sharing his dismay was social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, who expressed surprise that the Act will not be replaced by the National Harmony Bills proposed by the NUCC.
As part of his administration’s raft of reforms, Najib had in 2012 pledged to do away with the Sedition Act and replace it with laws on national harmony. This was repeated twice more, most recently on September 5.
The NUCC was formed November 30 last year to establish a National Unity Blueprint and was tasked with, among others, to propose new legislation to replace the Sedition Act.
It later proposed three draft bills to replace the Sedition Act: The Racial, Religious and Hate Crimes bill, which outlaws hate speech; the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill, which prohibits discrimination; and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill, which details the functions of the commission that will inquire into complaints of discrimination.
Confusion over the drafts led to vicious attacks against the NUCC and the Bar Council that was roped in to help prepare the legislation, forcing Putrajaya to repeatedly deny that the proposals were the intended replacements for the Sedition Act.
Putrajaya later also began to convey that the repeal of the Act was not certain, hinting that it may be retained if the replacements are inferior.
At the 65th Umno General Assembly today, Najib removed all doubts when he declared that the Sedition Act 1948 will remain, after consultation with party leaders, NGOs and grassroots members.
He also announced that the Act will be strengthened with two extra provisions: One prohibiting insults against all religions, and the other prohibiting talks of Sabah and Sarawak seceding from Malaysia.
“I assumed he had thought long and hard before he said he would abolish it, and I’m hoping he gave the same amount of thought to this reversal of that decision,” Marina told Malay Mail Online.
“As with all laws, they mean nothing no matter what amendments are made if implementation is poor and prosecution is selective.”
Today, Mujahid also wondered aloud about the prime minister’s given reasons for the retention of the criticised law, pointing out that the Federal Constitution contains clear provisions protecting the Malays, Islam and the Malay rulers.
The PAS lawmaker criticised the possibility that the decision was made solely to convince Umno delegates at the convention of the party’s commitment to protect the Malay agenda.
“This is the wrong perception,” said the PAS MP. “The whole idea is, Umno is afraid of its own shadow and now they are trying to drag the whole country because they feel threatened and not the people, Islam or the Malay rulers.”
Up until the announcement today, Putrajaya has repeatedly insisted it will repeal the Sedition Act and sought to justify an accelerated use of the law against opposition politicians, activists, academics and even a journalist.
Defenders of the Sedition Act, primarily pro-establishment conservatives including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, contend that its removal will open the floodgates of attacks against the Bumiputera, Islam, and the Malay rulers in the absence of another pre-independence law that has since been repealed, the Internal Security Act.