Lawyer: Sedition Act aimed at imprisoning minds

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Syahredzan Johan speaks at a forum on the Sedition Act at Wisma HELP, Kuala Lumpur, March 12, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Syahredzan Johan speaks at a forum on the Sedition Act at Wisma HELP, Kuala Lumpur, March 12, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The amended Sedition Act that now imposes a minimum three years’ jail term is meant to “imprison” the minds of Malaysians, civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan has said.

Syahredzan said the Sedition Act is actually intended to create a “chilling effect” and strike fear in Malaysians, but urged his countrymen to continue to speak out.

“And that’s enough, they have achieved their purpose. The purpose isn’t actually to detain, to have this law and use it on everyone, they won’t have resources for that, but it is to imprison your mind, to make you feel afraid,” he told a forum here last night.

“So now that we know this is enough, are we just going to keep quiet, or are we going to keep at it, keep speaking up? Because we know this is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental liberty, the right to freedom of speech and expression and no one can take that away from us,” he said.

Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said Putrajaya’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) and Sedition Act amendments showed that the federal government “doesn’t believe in true democracy” and is out to “silence” the public.

“We should resist the temptation to self censor,” the former Malaysian Bar president said.

Putrajaya’s justification that Pota and the Sedition Act is to prevent chaos was also untrue, she said.

“I can tell you people have said worse things than those who have been arrested for sedition and nothing has happened,” she said, adding that Malaysians are “more sensible” and largely “immune” to the daily rubbish dished out to them.

With its disproportionately high penalties of a minimum three years’ jail to a maximum 20 years’ jail for offences that do not even require proof of intention, the Sedition Act has become “ridiculous”, Ambiga said.

“It actually is a Mickey Mouse piece of legislation, but it’s not funny, it’s not a cartoon. It’s very real… It is an absolute infringement — in my view — of the fundamental rights of Malaysians to comment,” the patron of civil rights movement Negara-Ku said.

For me, what they are doing is abusing the Sedition Act and remand process because they mete out punishments effectively even before you are charged and you’ll never be charged but they got their pound of flesh as it is,” she also said, referring to the police’s bids to detain those suspected of sedition for a few days.

While noting that Putrajaya did remove clauses that meant criticism of the government and judiciary is no longer seditious, Ambiga said these changes are like the act of “adding sugar to poisons”.

“Because to me, it makes no difference to the overall scheme, which can include the criticisms in a general view,” she said in response to a question on the alleged thin line between hostile statements against the nation and political parties.

“In any event, if they can’t get you under that section, they sue you for defamation.

The Mahasiswa Keadilan forum titled “POTA and Sedition Act: Progression or Regression” also featured Malaysian Bar vice president George Varughese.


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