Malaysia: government must protect lawyers protesting against sedition law
The Malaysian government must ensure a rally tomorrow by lawyers protesting the country’s stifling Sedition Act can proceed peacefully, without undue interference by the police, who must take lawful measures to prevent violence from counter protesters, said the ICJ today.
The Malaysian Bar Council organized the ‘Walk for Peace and Freedom’ as a 1.3 kilometer march from Padang Merbok carpark in the city center to Parliament, in protest against the recent string of arrests, charges, investigations and prosecutions under the archaic 1948 Sedition Act.
“The Sedition Act is being misused with increasing frequency to muzzle legal professionals who express their views about existing laws,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser on Southeast Asia. “Under principle 23 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, members of the legal profession have the right to participate in public discussions concerning the law, the administration of justice and promotion and protection of human rights. The authorities have the duty to respect and protect this right.”
The ICJ’s concerns about potential violence against the lawyers’ rally reflects the events of last Sunday, 12 October 2014, where a group of counter protesters attacked a peaceful march in Penang organized by the human rights group Suaram against the Sedition Act.
“The Malaysian government is responsible for protecting the rights of those holding dissenting views, and that includes protecting peaceful protesters from police abuse as well as from violent counter protesters,” said Emerlynne Gil.
In early September, the ICJ condemned the use of sedition against two members of the legal profession, Dr. Azmi Sharom and N. Surendran, and repeated its call for the abolition of the Sedition Act.
On 20 September 2014, Edmund Bon (photo), a prominent human rights and constitutional lawyer, was questioned by the police regarding comments made in a January 2014 article titled “Non-Muslims do not need to obey royal decree or fatwa”, which was about a decree issued by the National Fatwa Council that ruled the word “Allah” is a term that could only be used by Muslims.
His comments were based on the decision of a Malaysian Federal Court.
On 30 September 2014, Dr. Abdul Aziz Bari, a law professor at the University of Selangor, was summoned for a police interview over comments made about the selection process of the new Chief Minister by the Sultan of Selangor.
The comments appeared in two articles published earlier in the month by The Malaysian Insider, titled “Sultan of Selangor is bound by the 1992 Declaration, must appoint Wan Azizah, says Aziz Bari” and “Only God, not Sultan, has absolute power, says legal expert”.
“The freedom of peaceful assembly and of association is a right guaranteed under universally accepted international human rights standards,” Gil added. “The ICJ calls on the Malaysian authorities to respect this right by facilitating the peaceful rally and not resorting to unnecessary intimidation or force”.
The ICJ reiterates its call to the Government of Malaysia to follow through its 2012 commitment to abolish the Sedition Act.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Advier on Southeast Asia, m: +66 840923575, e: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org