Azmi Sharom: University students risk expulsion over vague law protecting ‘parliamentary democracy’

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Lawyers and law experts slam usage of 124 B Penal Code amendments as being unconstitutional. Pic taken from FMT News.
Lawyers and law experts slam usage of 124 B Penal Code amendments as being unconstitutional. Pic taken from FMT News, associated with the next article.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 — Undergraduates can be expelled from universities if they are charged with a law that vaguely outlaws activities harmful to parliamentary democracy, senior law lecturer Azmi Sharom said today.

Azmi highlighted the problem of the new criminal offence introduced in 2012 as Section 124B of the Penal Code, with the vague and undefined phrase of “parliamentary democracy” making it impossible to know what would amount to a threat against it.

“Where students are concerned, if they are charged, they can have disciplinary action taken against them, that is (in) the Universities and University Colleges Act, so you don’t have to be found guilty to be expelled from your institution, you can merely be charged,” the associate professor at Universiti Malaya’s (UM) law faculty said at the Bar Council’s forum “Section 124 of the Penal Code and Parliamentary Democracy” here.

He gave the hypothetical example of university students gathering to call for the prime minister’s resignation and being charged under Section 124B, saying that they could be expelled by the time the court finds them not guilty.

“So this is what I’m saying. This is what concerns me — the amount of repression that we are facing now is almost getting to the point of ridiculousness. It is ridiculous, it is ridiculous,” he added.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo also said the lack of a definition in the Penal Code for the term “parliamentary democracy” made the new law open to abuse, noting that Section 124B is punishable by a mandatory jail term of up to 20 years.

Gobind said Parliament should avoid making laws with such a broadly-worded provision and leave Malaysians to face the risk of imprisonment, as well as going through numerous court cases to decide on the actual meaning intended before finally repealing it as a draconian law decades later.

“Why don’t we start on the right footing and say to yourself — when we legislate, we do not legislate with phrases as broad as this, because when we do this, it is the people that are in peril by prosecution in cases which go beyond what is required,” the Puchong MP said at the same forum.

UM’s Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar, another speaker at the forum, said Malaysia had wrongly copied the UK legal position when it introduced a slew of amendments to Section 124 of the Penal Code.

He cited the then de-facto law minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, who had in a parliamentary speech, indicated that the Malaysian government was inspired by UK’s Security Services Act, which also talks about the prevention of the overthrowing or undermining of parliamentary democracy.

But Gurdial pointed out that UK has no written constitution and its Parliament is supreme, while Malaysia’s written Federal Constitution is supreme.

“This is made very clear because if you look at a large number of Articles (in the Constitution), Article 4(1), 128, 162 (6) and so on, Parliament itself is subordinate to Constitution itself, so where is the question of preserving, not undermining parliamentary democracy?” the law professor asked.

He added that parliamentary democracy can be challenged in court in Malaysia.

“As far as this Act is concerned, which is intended to protect the national integrity of the country, the Act itself, the provisions itself are flawed and therefore becomes entirely unconstitutional,” he said when commenting on the amendments to Section 124.

New offences under Section 124B to Section 124N were tabled on April 10, 2012 and came into effect on July 31, 2012.

Those convicted for the new offences of attempting to commit activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy or printing documents against parliamentary democracy are liable to a maximum jail term of 15 years, while those who own or receive such documents can be punished by up to 10 years in jail.

Anyone who imports such documents or publications can be punished with up to five years’ jail.


Protests asking PM to quit not illegal, says Azmi Sharom
Source: FMT News

KUALA LUMPUR: Law academician Associate Professor Azmi Sharom insists that public protests by citizens calling for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation are part of parliamentary democracy.

Recalling the “Undur Najib” protest in front of the Sogo Shopping Complex on August 1 last year, where 29 mostly young protesters were arrested, Azmi said those detained (including one of his students) should not be investigated under  Section 124 B of the Penal Code for activities that are deemed to be detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Azmi said there were no violent displays by the protesters to justify the usage of Section 124 B, which also deals with detrimental activities with an element of violence.

“You cannot really say, by any stretch of the imagination, that appearing in front of Sogo with placards saying ‘Undur Najib’ is violent.

“You have all these people saying, it’s unconstitutional because he’s an elected PM. No, actually he’s an elected MP. He’s not an elected PM.”

 Azmi was speaking at the Public Forum on Section 124 B Penal Code and Parliamentary Democracy, organised by the Bar Council at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium here today.

The amendment, which was tabled in 2012 by then de-facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz, introduced new sections to the Penal Code to deal with offences that used to be dealt with under the Internal Security Act 1960 (Act 82), but with modifications.

The modifications empower the authorities to take action not only against individuals but also print and electronic media practitioners.
Section 124B states that anyone who is involved in an “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” can be imprisoned to a term that may extend to 20 years while those attempting to do so can be imprisoned up to 15 years.

Opposition and civil right movements have condemned the amendments to the Penal Code.

Azmi said the MPs as those who are elected by the people have the power to oust the PM in Parliament under the Constitution. The MPs are the ones the protesters were trying to reach.

“So here’s democracy 101: when we elect people, we elect MPs and then whoever has confidence of the House becomes PM. That’s in the Constitution.

“So it’s perfectly within our democratic system for people to say we don’t like this PM any more, please step down.

“We can’t do anything about it. We cannot force him to step down, but our MPs, who should be listening to us, can because they can pass a vote of no-confidence against him and he can then step down.

“So how is that threatening parliamentary democracy? If we don’t tell our MPs what we want, how are they supposed to know? Are they supposed to just get it in a dream?

“How else are we supposed to get our feelings across? It is perfectly legitimate to want the PM to resign. I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever. But they (the government) do.”

Meanwhile, the another speaker at the forum, law professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, slammed the amendments, saying that they were unconstitutional.

He said even the word “national security” and “parliamentary democracy” are not defined well in the law.

“As far as it is concerned, it (the 124B Penal Code amendments) are intended to protect national security. The provision itself is flawed and, therefore, becomes entirely unconstitutional.”

Lawyer and DAP MP Gobind Singh Deo, said he had for years, since Nazri tabled the amendment bills in April 2012, been asking in vain for a definition of “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” as it was never properly defined.

“If you have words that are so broad in meaning and leave it to a judge to decide, then has Parliament done what it was supposed to have done?”


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