I read with delight the article penned by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad titled, “No provision exempts anyone from the rule of law” in Malaysiakini today.
The PM is absolutely right to point out that the rule of law is of utmost importance and that the Federal Constitution must be respected and followed by all citizens from the Rulers to the ordinary man.
I, however, have to respectfully disagree with the PM’s view in his said article that certain legitimate complaints will not be deemed seditious and will be regarded as free speech and that citizens can openly speak about these issues.
The law of sedition is peculiar in that statements and criticism with seditious tendencies are deemed seditious irrespective of the intention of the critic.
In other words, a critic may honestly feel that he is justified in criticising or speaking freely on an issue that he/she feels is justified but such criticism will still be deemed seditious if it carries with it certain seditious tendencies.
As such, the intention of the critic is irrelevant and the court decides what is and is not seditious. It is also immaterial if the impugned statement or criticism is true or not.
That being the case, as long as the Sedition Act, 1948 remains in force, there will always be a fear of speaking freely, particularly on sensitive issues as one may not even intend to commit sedition but might do so in any event.
Furthermore, although this government may encourage freedom of speech without the fear of sedition, it does not necessarily follow that the next government will adopt the same stance.
No doubt, freedom of speech, or any other constitutionally guaranteed freedom, for that matter, is never absolute.
However, as much latitude as possible must be given to citizens to express their views and criticism on matters even if they are sensitive in nature as constructive criticism is a necessary part of any democracy.
I have always been of the view that the Sedition Act ought to be repealed.
Existing laws such as the Penal Code can be amended to include offences therein to protect the monarchy and new laws such as the Religous and Racial Hatred Act can be introduced to address the problem of racial hatred without the need to retain the Sedition Act.
In the circumstances, it is hoped the government seriously considers abolishing the Sedition Act in line with its promise to abolish such draconian laws in its election manifesto.
By doing so, the ordinary citizen will no longer fear speaking his mind honestly which is what, I believe, the PM is encouraging in his said article.
Dated this 2nd January, 2019.
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
CHAIRMAN NATIONAL LEGAL BUREAU
DEMOCRATIC ACTION PARTY