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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why Sedition Act is the new ISA

KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 2009 | malaysianinsider — By Syed Jaymal Zahiid and Melissa Loovi

The recent spate of arrests made under the Sedition Act has led opposition leaders and lawyers to unanimously conclude that the government might have found a better tool than the Internal Security Act (ISA) to quell dissent.

The continued use of the ISA, condemned locally and internationally, does not appear to be politically tenable. This week, a number of activists and opposition party leaders were detained under the Sedition Act.

Many Barisan Nasional (BN) component party leaders have also joined their Pakatan Rakyat (PR) counterparts in calling for the government to abolish the British-inherited law. Umno is the only party that believes that the unpopular law should be maintained.

The Sedition Act is, however, perceived to be less oppressive than the ISA but yet drafted in such a way that it gives the government absolute power to make arrests on its political enemies.

According to section 4 (1) of the Sedition Act, a person is considered to have committed an offence under this law if he or she attempts to do, or make any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act which has or would, if done, have a seditious tendency.

It further read that any person is found to have committed an offence under this law if he or she utters any seditious words, prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes, or reproduces any seditious publications or imports any seditious publications.

Yet in all of this, there is no real and clear definitive guideline as to what constitutes sedition.

Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, who is also a lawyer, said such a vague law lends the authorities indefinite power to silence the opposition.

“A conviction can be so easily secured under the Sedition Act because it is under the discretion of the judge (to conclude what is seditious or not),” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Malik Imtiaz, a prominent human rights lawyer, also said that due to the vague definition, the Sedition Act can be easily used by the BN government on its enemies.

“Where do you draw the line between responsible expression and unethical ones (if the law does not provide such guidelines) so the police are left with the power to draw its own conclusion,” he said.

Centre for Public Policy Studies, or ASLI, chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam told The Malaysian Insider that with the Sedition Act, the government would stand to gain more if it were to make arrests under the Sedition Act instead of the ISA.

"With the Sedition Act, one can stand for an open trial and the government would be seen as conducting a proper exercise of the rule of law.

"But with the ISA, its provision for detention without trial is a violation of one's fundamental rights and a vital aspect of a democracy and the people would perceive this as oppressive," he said.

Navaratnam added that it was wrong for the government to clamp down on opposition leaders and rights activists in recent days as it had encroached their democratic rights to freedom of expression.

Looking back at the history of the Sedition Act, prominent academician Farish A. Noor said it was rather ironic that the British-inherited law is being used against the opposition.

"I think members of the public should remember that the Sedition Act was created by the British colonialists and it was used to silence nationalist opposition who were freedom fighters fighting for the country's independence.

"So it's ironic that the current leaders that came from the same background are actually using the Sedition Act to silence their opposition," he said.

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