Southeast Asian lawmakers urge Malaysia to repeal repressive laws criminalizing government critics

Southeast Asian lawmakers urge Malaysia to repeal repressive laws criminalizing government critics

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Lawmakers from Southeast Asia are urging the new Malaysian government to repeal laws that they say are too often used to stifle critics, including parliamentarians and human rights defenders.

They are calling on the Malaysian government to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by repealing the Sedition Act of 1948 and the Communication and Multimedia Act of 1988.

The Sedition Act, which carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison for vaguely worded offenses, has been used by the former Barisan National government to imprison critics, including human rights defenders, journalists, academics, and lawyers.

In 2016, for example, People’s Justice Party MP and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) member Tian Chua was sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of over 400 USD after speaking out against racism and corruption.

The lawmakers expressed their concerns about the Communication and Multimedia Act, which criminalizes online content that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing, or offensive in character” and is too vaguely worded, making it prone to misuse.

“As a long time member of the opposition, we hope that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim recognizes the dangers posed by overly broad and ambiguous legislation that can easily be used by those in power to target opposition politicians and human rights defenders,” said APHR Chair and member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, Mercy Barends, at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The APHR Members from Indonesia and the Philippines visited Malaysia to express their solidarity with its Co-Chair, Charles Santiago, who is facing a defamation lawsuit from influential and controversial preacher Zakir Naik. They expressed their concern that speaking on issues of public concern could lead to censorship.

The lawmakers also drew attention to the situation in Myanmar, where the military coup in February 2021 led to the suspension of the parliament, with many members of the national and sub-national parliaments detained, tortured, and even executed, making it impossible for them to represent their constituents.

“Parliamentarians should be able to carry out their mandate as the people’s representatives without fear of reprisals if they say the wrong thing or offend the wrong person,” said APHR member and Malaysian member of parliament Wong Chen.

In the Philippines, disinformation and red-tagging campaigns against opposition parties and lawmakers continue, leading to widespread online threats and violence against lawmakers and their supporters.

“Governments and parliaments throughout Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, should learn from the Philippines, and work to repeal repressive laws to ensure that this kind of persecution against lawmakers do not occur,” said APHR Board Member and former Philippines member of parliament Teddy Baguilat, Jr.

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