Putrajaya Climbs Down From Sedition Law Repeal, Says Still Studying Options

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 – Putrajaya is still mulling whether to keep the Sedition Act or replace it altogether, saying it has yet to draft any new law despite the Prime Minister’s promise two years ago, and again last week, to repeal the colonial-era law. The Prime Minister’s Office said the Attorney-General’s Chambers will draft the National Harmony Act only after principal and basic issues are decided. “Any draft laws prepared by other groups other than the Attorney-General’s Chambers is not valid and cannot be accepted,” the PMO said in a statement today.

The statement comes after Malay rights groups insisted that sedition laws should remain and they would withdraw support if there was any repeal. The statement left it open as to whether Putrajaya will now repeal or merely amend the Sedition Act. It said the government was in no rush to replace the colonial-era law, saying that any new law had to be better than the current legislation and be able to control radical groups and extremists. “The country still needs the support of laws that can act as a deterrent to ensure continuous peace, harmony and stability.

“The government wishes to stress that any decision whether to retain the Sedition Act 1948 or to introduce the National Harmony Act will be made rationally, cautiously and transparently. “This process needs to happen in a controlled manner so that the country can continue to be harmonious, strong and stable,” the statement read. It said discussions are still ongoing on the proposed National Harmony Bill and that drafting of the law will only be done after getting a broad consensus.

The statement noted that there are four current views on the Sedition Act – retain it with some amendments, repeal it entirely, replace it with the National Harmony Act, or retain it but introduce the National Harmony Act as a separate law.Three proposed National Harmony Bills have been drafted by the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), which seeks to narrow down the broad offences stipulated under the Sedition Act. Its drafters said the new laws would place a higher threshold on what constitutes a crime, and would provide less room for what is perceived to be selective persecution.

However, the council has came under fire recently for uploading the draft of the Bills on its website when Putrajaya has yet to discuss it. Umno divisions and a segment of the public who want the Sedition Act retained, have also pressured Najib not to repeal the act, which they say safeguards Islam, Malays and the royal institution. This grassroots pressure follows Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s third promise last week to repeal the act. He first pledged to do so in July 2012 and repeated his pledge in an interview with the BBC last year.

Since feeling the heat, the prime minister said on Monday that Putrajaya would get feedback from the Malay community before it decides whether to repeal the Sedition Act or not. In the last few weeks, Putrajaya has been on a sedition dragnent, with opposition politicians, activists, an academician and a journalist being investigated or charged under the law which defines sedition broadly. The PMO statement today assured Malay groups that any decision made will still safeguard the position of Islam, Malays and the royal institution in line with the Federal Constitution.

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