Sedition Act to be repealed or replaced before the end of the year, says Malaysia’s Law Minister; Lawyer argues replacement not necessary

Malaysia’s Sedition Act will be repealed, replaced with a new law, or its provisions placed under the penal code sometime this year, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong.

Datuk Liew, who is also the de facto Law Minister, said that the repeal of the colonial-era law will allow for more freedom of expression in the country, adding that even so the defamatory safeguards towards royalty will be preserved.

He said, “We will have a new Act to replace it or alternatively, it will be placed under the Penal Code and will include certain sections that cover defamation towards the royal institution. Under the Sedition Act, the definition of sedition is quite narrow. We want to ensure not all statements can be seditious. Certain statements can be allowed some freedom.

“We do not mind if the government is criticised, if it is constructive,” he said in a special interview marking Pakatan Harapan (PH)’s first year in office.

As part of their manifesto, PH had pledged to reform several laws including the Sedition Act, Anti-Fake News Act, Security Offences (Special Measures Act (SOSMA), Prevention of Crime Act, and the National Security Council Act.

So far, the repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act was passed in the lower house of Parliament (Dewan Rakyat) but rejected in the Dewan Negara in September 2018 which is dominated by the opposition.

Datuk Liew assured reporters that the government was committed that the Sedition Act will go and that the Cabinet had already given it a green light. He added, “I expect the Act to be abolished this year. It should be tabled in Parliament in July or October.”

However, lawyers have called for the government to completely abolish the Sedition Act and forgot any replacement, saying there is no need for it. Lawyer and Malaysian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) said in a series of tweets that the law was archaic and repressive, adding that it “belongs in the dustbin of history together with other colonial era laws.”

He said, “It’s a mark of shame of any independent nation to continue having colonial era legislation like the Sedition Act that was then used to suppress freedom fighters & civil liberties & continue to do so after independence”.

Mr Paulsen said that while it is well established that freedom of speech is not absolute, the threshold should be high and that any restriction on the freedom of speech ‘must be necessary, proportionate, and provided by law for legitimate grounds.”