Malaysia under fire for controversial anti-terror and sedition laws

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Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Malaysian parliament in the early hours of April 10 after a record 14+ hour debate pushed through a revised law that includes online media ban, mandatory jail and what is being claimed by some lawmakers the “most serious attack on freedom.”

The amendments to the 1948 Sedition Act came just a few days after the parliament passed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) Bill after a similarly long and heated debate that lasted until the wee hours of April 7.

The United Nations top human rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was the latest public figure to speak out on the amendments to the Sedition Act.

‘’It is very disappointing that the Malaysian government is now proposing to make a bad law worse,’’ he said.

Prince Zeid also voiced concern over the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act as “serious human rights shortcomings” were included in the law, e.g. provisions for indefinite detention of individuals without trial, confiscation of their documents and the sweeping of powers to law enforcement.

“Silencing dissent does not nurture social stability, but an open democratic space does,” he added.

The backlash on social media has begun with claims from human rights workers that POTA and revisions mark “a week in Malaysia that will live in human rights infamy.”

With a country that was last year reported to have 64 per cent of the population on social media there are fears that this could be the death of social media and freedom of expression as users err on the side of caution for fear of falling afoul of the amended act that has seen Twitter users investigated.

Although it was barely two years ago that Putrajaya promised to abolish the colonial-era law, and through POTA have revived the powers of the Internal Security Act that Prime Minister Najib Razak had scrapped, Malaysian officials have scrambled in an effort to alleviate fears by stating the amendment is in line with the government’s vision to be more open and transparent by enabling the public to give feedback or criticism against the government without fear of reprisals.

The amendments to the Sedition Act will mean the act of inciting hatred, contempt or causing dissatisfaction towards the government will no longer be an offense upon approval of the act as the administration counters that this will result in a transparent and responsible government. But the revision is effectively granting wider jurisdiction to the authorities to take action on speech or activities that are seen as seditious in nature.

The timing of the announcement and the turn around from previous statements has already led to intense speculation and debate, and it will be interesting to see how Malaysia still holds claim to moving to a reformist agenda whilst on the face of it retreating further away.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Malaysian parliament in the early hours of April 10 after a record 14+ hour debate pushed through a revised law that includes online media ban, mandatory jail and what is being claimed by some lawmakers the “most serious attack on freedom.”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Malaysian parliament in the early hours of April 10 after a record 14+ hour debate pushed through a revised law that includes online media ban, mandatory jail and what is being claimed by some lawmakers the “most serious attack on freedom.”

The amendments to the 1948 Sedition Act came just a few days after the parliament passed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) Bill after a similarly long and heated debate that lasted until the wee hours of April 7.

The United Nations top human rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was the latest public figure to speak out on the amendments to the Sedition Act.

‘’It is very disappointing that the Malaysian government is now proposing to make a bad law worse,’’ he said.

Prince Zeid also voiced concern over the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act as “serious human rights shortcomings” were included in the law, e.g. provisions for indefinite detention of individuals without trial, confiscation of their documents and the sweeping of powers to law enforcement.

“Silencing dissent does not nurture social stability, but an open democratic space does,” he added.

The backlash on social media has begun with claims from human rights workers that POTA and revisions mark “a week in Malaysia that will live in human rights infamy.”

With a country that was last year reported to have 64 per cent of the population on social media there are fears that this could be the death of social media and freedom of expression as users err on the side of caution for fear of falling afoul of the amended act that has seen Twitter users investigated.

Although it was barely two years ago that Putrajaya promised to abolish the colonial-era law, and through POTA have revived the powers of the Internal Security Act that Prime Minister Najib Razak had scrapped, Malaysian officials have scrambled in an effort to alleviate fears by stating the amendment is in line with the government’s vision to be more open and transparent by enabling the public to give feedback or criticism against the government without fear of reprisals.

The amendments to the Sedition Act will mean the act of inciting hatred, contempt or causing dissatisfaction towards the government will no longer be an offense upon approval of the act as the administration counters that this will result in a transparent and responsible government. But the revision is effectively granting wider jurisdiction to the authorities to take action on speech or activities that are seen as seditious in nature.

The timing of the announcement and the turn around from previous statements has already led to intense speculation and debate, and it will be interesting to see how Malaysia still holds claim to moving to a reformist agenda whilst on the face of it retreating further away.

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