Govt: Avoid using the Sedition Act

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN & DASHVEENJIT KAUR / Pic By BERNAMA

The government has directed the police to halt using the Sedition Act 1948 as Putrajaya moves to formulate new legislatures and rescinds the contentious law inherited from colonial rule.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong (picture) said the government wants the law reviewed, amended or abolished as soon as possible.

“On principle, the government is in fact in the process of evaluating the Sedition Act with the intention to abolish it. Although it is still in progress, we are aiming for a decision soon,” he said in Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

He was responding to Fahmi Fadzil (Pakatan Harapan-Lembah Pantai) who asked about the progress in the government’s move to abolish the controversial law as pledged by Pakatan prior to the general election and if the police would refrain from enforcing the law until changes were made.

“The police are told to avoid using the law as we are still in the process of reviewing it with an intention of amending it first or abolishing it entirely,” Liew said.

He said the related bill is being prepared and will be finalised soon.

Earlier this year, Liew said the bill to abolish the act will be tabled in the current parliamentary sitting.

He also said the government will introduce a law to replace the Sedition Act’s functions.

The government had announced a moratorium on the application of the law but lifted it in December last year due to exceptional cases that required the police to enforce the Sedition Act.

Liew also said Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was unhappy over the move to arrest government critics, stressing that politicians must be able to handle criticisms.

“The government, under the leadership of Dr Mahathir, disagrees with the arrest of individuals who insult the government or Cabinet members.

“We do not stop individuals from voicing out, as well as giving constructive criticism to the government, or to anyone who is part of the administration,” he said in a response to Wong Shu Qi (Pakatan Harapan-Kluang), who asked about the government’s stand on the arrest a man for insulting the PM.

“However, the freedom to criticise does not mean anyone can slander others as it is still a violation of the law including words meant to hurt others and disrupt public order,” he added.

Liew cited two laws — Section 298 and 298A of the Penal Code — that could be used against those who utter or publish words meant to cause hurt.

“According to Section 298, uttering or publishing words with the deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person is an offence with a one-year jail term as the maximum penalty, a fine or both.

“As for Section 298A, uttering or publishing words with the intent of causing disharmony, disunity, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will that could prejudice the maintenance of harmony and unity on grounds of religion’ is too an offence,” Liew said, adding that the maximum penalty under this law is a two to five years’ jail.

On freedom of speech and confronting abusers of social media, Liew said Article 10(1) of the Federal Constitution guarantees freedom of speech but it is subject to restrictions under the laws related to national security, bilateral ties with other countries, public peace, morality and parliamentary privileges.

He added that the people are free to hold demonstrations, provided they abide by the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.