KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 1 – Putrajaya will obtain feedback from Umno grassroots on the Sedition Act at its general assembly before deciding whether to repeal the colonial law, The Star Online reported today. Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (pic) assured that whatever decision made by the government, it will not compromise on the country’s stability.
“The government must listen to views of all the stakeholders in deciding what to do with the Sedition Act. Umno is a major stakeholder and you cannot ignore their views,” he was quoted as saying at the Terengganu Umno convention today. The Umno general assembly is scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur on November 29. Hishammuddin conceded that the Sedition Act needs to be reviewed taking into account today’s political landscape.
“We might replace it with a new Act. If we do not abolish it, we might amend it with new additions. We want to enhance the existing laws while ensuring that the important essence of the Sedition Act is still retained,” he was further quoted as saying. Putrajaya is still mulling whether to keep the Sedition Act or replace it altogether, saying last September that it has yet to draft any new law despite the Prime Minister’s promise two years ago to repeal the law.
The Prime Minister’s Office had 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 had said following Malay rights groups insistence that sedition laws should remain and they would withdraw support if there was any repeal.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said previously that his government would get feedback from the Malay community before it makes any decision on the Sedition Act. Putrajaya had been on a sedition dragnet, with opposition politicians, activists and academicians being investigated or charged under the draconian law.
Critics had accused Najib of back pedalling on his pledge to repeal the law, which he first promised to do away in July 2012 as part of his reform agenda and again in an interview with British broadcaster BBC’s World News programme a year later and this was again reiterated two months ago. This comes as Najib faces pressure from his Umno grassroots and even a segment of the public who had flooded his Facebook page, with requests that he not repeal the law, which they said safeguards Islam, Malays and the royal institution.
The Sedition Act was supposed to be replaced by three laws, the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill, the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill, and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill. 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 drafters – the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) came under fire for uploading the draft of the Bills on its website when Putrajaya has yet to discuss it.