Commentary Politics

The Sedition Act, a law that ceased to be enforced from May 10


Written by Aziz Hassan

November 27, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

SINCE the Pakatan Harapan coalition came into power after the May 9 elections, the prosecutors have withdrawn charges in four cases under the Sedition Act – all involving offences deemed to have been committed by politicians in the then opposition or those known to be leaning towards the opposition

In the years before the elections, there were also a fair number of cases of people being hauled by the police to be investigated for making unsavoury remarks against the rulers or the institution.

Those not agreeable with the Act say that it is there as an impediment to freedom of the press and expression.

The new government subsequently decided on October 10 to impose a moratorium on the Act, meaning that one could in fact commit an offence under it and get away unpunished, especially on matters previously considered sensitive and thus out of bounds to critics. The four fundamental areas within this are the sovereignty of the Malay rulers, special rights of the Malays/Bumiputera, the position of the national language and citizenship for non-Malays.

This is where the contention comes in for someone like Tan Sri Aziz Abdul Rahman, a one-time officer with the Legal and Judicial Service, corporate figure and lawyer, who was a long time ago involved in drafting amendments to the Act following the 1969 May 13 racial riots.

In fact Aziz and former national police chief Tun Hanif Omar were summoned to appear before the rulers in 2014 to present their opinions when former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak intended to repeal the Act. Both men were dead against the idea and the rulers agreed that Najib’s plan could not proceed because something like this needs their consent.

Those in favour of repealing this law argue that there are enough provisions in the Penal Code to make the Sedition Act unnecessary but those on the other side point to the four areas as mentioned above as the major differences between the two laws because the PC is completely silent on these four.

Since it was introduced in 1948 by the British colonial government, the Sedition Act has gone through some amendments, one of which states very clearly that despite the freedom of expression accorded to Malaysians under the federal Constitution, there can be no open or public questioning of the four fundamental issues.

Due to the talk in recent times about wanting to make another attempt to repeal the Sedition Act, Aziz has made clear that he intends to be in the forefront of any movement to try and block this from happening and he is confident of being backed by “hundreds of lawyers” for this cause.

Aziz was asked recently what he thought of the moratorium and had no hesitation to say that he simply considers it to be an unlawful decision, the reason being to do something like this would require the government to go through Parliament, which apparently it didn’t because the statement on October 11 on the moratorium only alluded to a decision by the cabinet.

To Aziz, this means a blatant disregard or disrespect of the law.

His view: “When the law is there, there is no choice but to implement it. If you don’t do that, that means you are neglecting your duty.”

Without the four fundamental issues, the Sedition Act is technically no different from other Acts passed by Parliament and can thus be repealed by the simple process of going through the house but in the case of this piece of legislation, there is an exception, which is the need for consent from the rulers before it can be repealed. This is contained in two amendments to the federal Constitution after the May 13 riots.

What we have now in fact is something in limbo.

One is no one seems to know how long the moratorium will be in effect and secondly, there appears to be no firm move towards repealing the Act. What we have heard was merely a statement from the prime minister to say there was no deadline to the plan for a repeal.

(Reporter Zaidi Azmi interviewed Tan Sri Aziz and did the search for information.)




About the author


Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.