KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 – The Centre for a Better Tomorrow (CenBet) today said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak appears to be sending the wrong political signals with his decision to retain and fortify the controversial Sedition Act 1948. By going against his 2012 pledge to do away with the archaic law, CenBet co-president Gan Ping Sieuhe said Najib had raised serious doubts about his commitment to political reforms and promoting civil society.
“This is most unfortunate given the PM’s track record of having abolished the Internal Security Act; amended the University and University Colleges Act and doing away with the annual licensing requirements for print media.” He said the Sedition Act contains obsolete provisions, many of which were couched in general terms and were liable to abuse.
“Over the past few months, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in cases of authorities using the law seemingly to clamp down on political and civil society dissent. “Worse still, there was perceived double standards in implementing the law and selective prosecution in favour of those supportive of the Federal government.
“This has caused grave grievances and gross injustice,” he said. However, Gan said it was reassuring to note that the PM planned to amend the Act to criminalise those who insult religions. “The rising sentiment and ill feeling of religious communities must be addressed and the sanctity of freedom of worship must also be maintained.”
Since the Act was set to be amended, he said the PM should take the opportunity to make this a just law that was not open to abuse. The parameters for one to be found liable needed to be clearly spelt out, he said, adding that the Attorney-General should no longer operate as if his constitutional role enjoyed unaccountable wide discretionary powers to determine if someone should be brought to book.
Instead, Gan said clear prosecution guidelines should be spelt out for purposes of public education and consistency in application of laws. “At this juncture, we should also not let ourselves be distracted with semantics like ‘amend’, ‘abolish’ or ‘repeal’ but work towards improving the law.
“it is just like how the Internal Security Act was replaced with Security Offences (Special Measures) Act and the amendments were made to the Crime Prevention Act to deal with public order,” he pointed out. The controversial Section 15 of University and University Colleges Act was also amended. “These were part of efforts to improve laws,” he said.
He added that continuous efforts to improve legislations to reflect changes in society were hallmarks of a matured democracy.“Since the PM is determined in retaining the Sedition Act, it is our fervent hope that he can surprise his critics by making it a just law by means of legislative amendments. “Only then can he redeem the goodwill lost following his announcement last Wednesday and re-establish his reform credentials,” he said.