Law - BeLOW or AbOVE

Seven things to know about the Sedition Act

From the law’s origins to how it’s used today, here’s our easy guide to Malaysia’s Sedition Act. By Abdul Qayyum Jumadi.

1. The Sedition Act 1948 is a restraining law; it tells you what not to do. Among other things, “seditious” actions can include those that have a tendency to incite hatred towards a ruler or against any government; excite people to take over any government territory using unlawful means; bring into hatred or contempt the administration of justice in Malaysia; and promote feelings of ill-will and hostility among different races and classes.

2. It’s an archaic British law, introduced to Malaya in 1948 and amended shortly after the 1969 riots. What does this mean? It means the founding fathers of our nation did not legislate it. It was actually imported directly to become our law and was retained after Merdeka. The last prosecution for sedition in the United Kingdom was in 1972. In the UK, sedition as an offence was effectively abolished in 2010.

3. The Sedition Act applies to any act, speech, words, or publications. Under “publications”, the Act interprets it as anything written or printed or in any other manner capable of suggesting words or ideas, and every copy and reproduction or substantial reproduction of any publication. Sedition is different from defamation, which includes libel (published defamation) and slander (spoken false statement of defamation).

4. What is considered “seditious” under the Act is very wide. Section 3(1) of the Act uses the phrase “seditious tendency”. According to a Suaram report, theoretically even an article on water cuts may amount to sedition, since it could be interpreted as the tendency “to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State.” Many have said the problem lies with the arbitrariness of determining what is actually “seditious”, making the law very political.

5. If one is found to violate the Sedition Act for the first time, the maximum term of imprisonment is three years or a fine of not more than RM5000 (or both). Oh, and if you are an “innocent receiver” of seditious materials and you consciously do not hand the materials over to the police, you may also be liable for possession of seditious materials under section 7. A lesser sentence is imposed: a fine of RM2000 or imprisonment not more than 18 months or both.

6. The wideness of the provision plus the interpretation of the courts has led the Sedition Act to become very vague. It has been used in the past to prosecute Lim Guan Eng for criticising the Attorney General over a rape case, to raid online news portal Malaysiakini and more recently to charge Adam Adli, a 24-year-old student activist who wanted to overthrow the government. The Act has also been employed in investigation of UMNO-owned newspaper Utusan and two right-wing bloggers for “racial sedition” after publishing materials seen to provoke anti-Chinese sentiment.

7. The Prime Minister has spoken of repealing the Sedition Act. Last year, he said he planned to replace it with a National Harmony Act that “will emphasise the nurturing of the spirit of harmony and mutual respect among Malaysians of various races and religions.” At the beginning of the 2013 legal year, the Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail acknowledged there will be repeal and replacement of the Act. But the Sedition Act is still here and there have been no amendments to it since July 2012.


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