Malaysia: What exactly is sedition?

It has been a tumultuous time for blogging and online expression in Malaysia. With the ongoing court cases with blogger and online news portal editor, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, as well as the detention of Malay language blogger, Abdul Bakar aka ‘Penarik Beca’, it is with little surprise that it has been reported that Malaysian foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, called for the creation of a council or other form of mechanism to monitor bloggers.

News reports stated that Dr Rais Yatim believed that Malaysia has sufficient sanctions under the Sedition Act 1948, but he believed that there might be insufficient enforcement under the Act. Because of this, Dr Rais was said to opine that establishing a council would assist in both sanctions and enforcement.

The Malaysian Sedition Act 1948 curbs freedom of expression in Malaysia, by making it a criminal offence to say, commit an act or publish that which is seditious or having “seditious tendency“. It is not clear what the exact parameters of these terms are, but the Act has been used to curb, among other things, the citizen’s expression of dissatisfaction with the state. In fact, time and again, the government has used the offences under the Act to stifle criticism of leaders or policies.

It has been said that  the Malaysian government is sufficiently protected against expressions of the citizens’ hatred, contempt and treason by the Malaysian Penal Code. Furthermore, the Sedition Act 1948 technically only works within the parameters of Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, which promises the right of free speech and expression, subject only to restrictions “necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation…, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality… or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence’.

In 2007, the Sedition Act 1948 was used notably against Raja Petra Kamaruddin, for a blog post on his Malaysia Today website, and Wee Ming Chee, a student who used the national anthem, “Negaraku”, as the chorus of a rap he wrote, posted on his blog.

Aside from putting the Malayian Federal Constitution in its shadow, the Sedition Act 1948 has been used to displace the Malaysian Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantees, formulated in 1996 when Malaysia jumped on the Internet bandwagon. The simple ten-point Bill of Guarantees promises no Internet censorship.

As such, one wonders why Dr Rais has called for more restriction of online expression. Not only has the Sedition Act 1948 been used with surprising efficacy in curbing the Malaysian’s online freedom of speech, it also flies in the face of the Federal Constitution and the MSC Bill of Guarantees. What use would another council or mechanism be?

Dr Rais’ call has come shortly after Malaysian Home Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar announced that his ministry is formulating a National Media Policy, covering the areas of licences and press freedom. Syed Hamid also has mooted the idea of a Press Council which would regulate media content. It is as yet known if this National Media Policy would cover online activities.

 

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