The proposed amendments to the colonial-era Sedition Act amendment would be yet another attack 0n free speech, a civil society organisation today said.
In a statement today, the steering committee of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) 2.0 lashed out at the government for the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948, which among others, denies bail to those charged.
“Less than 12 hours after passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the government has launched another attack on the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Bersih 2.0 stresses the denial of bail should never be used to punish the accused,” said Bersih.
One of the amendments is to Section 4(1A), where those accused of sedition offences resulting in bodily injury or damage to property can be denied bail if this is backed by a public prosecutor in writing.
The group added that currently, offences which can be denied bail are limited to exceptional crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping – which are usually punished with death or life imprisonment.
“Is the government now equating sedition with such crimes? Is freedom of speech becoming so terrifying to this government?” the group said.
The amendment coincides comes in the wake of almost 160 sedition arrests of opposition leaders, activists, and journalists. One case in particular, involving cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque (better known as Zunar), was slapped with a record nine charges for tweets he made criticising opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s guilty verdict during the Sodomy 2 trial.
If the proposed amendment is passed today, judicial discretion to impose a fine instead of imprisonment would also be removed, which Bersih says would undermine the judiciary – apart from leaving no choice for sedition victims but to be sent to a lock-up.
“Bersih 2.0 considers this move as a display of the Government’s contemptuous attitude towards Malaysia’s public institutions,” said the group.
Other amendments include:
>> a public prosecutor can apply to the Sessions Court to instruct the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block access to any online publication deemed seditious;
>>specific mention on the promotion of feelings of ill-will, hostility or hatred between persons or groups of persons on the grounds of religion;
>> compulsory jail term of up to seven years and minimum of three years, and any act of sedition that leads to bodily injury or damage of property will be punishable by at least five years in jail and up to 20 years behind bars.
Bersih also questioned the timing of the amendment tabling, since the Federal Court is deliberating over the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.
Professor Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer from University Malaya who was charged under the Act for comments he made on the Selangor Menteri Besar crisis (relating the incident to the Perak constitutional crisis), challenged the Act on grounds that it is unconstitutional. He is represented by DAP Legal Bureau Chief Gobind Singh Deo.
Speaking at the Parliament lobby today, Gobind said that Pakatan MPs are seeking to postpone the bill amendment, invoking Standing Order 36(2) which does not allow MPs raising issues which are under judiciary consideration.
“We are calling for this amendment bill to be deferred because it is quite clear that we are not allowed to debate something that is currently pending in court.
“I think the government overlooked this when it tabled the bill today,” he said. He said that Pakatan MP’s would meet the Speaker to request for the bill’s postponement.
– The Rocket