The conviction of Member of Parliament Tian Chua under the 1948 Sedition Act increases already severe restrictions on freedom of expression in Malaysia, said the ICJ today.
The Malaysian government should drop all charges filed under this law and remove or amend this colonial era law to ensure compliance with international human rights law and standards, the ICJ added.
The Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur convicted Tian Chua (photo) today under Section 4(1)(b) of the 1948 Sedition Act for allegedly uttering “seditious words.”
The allegedly “seditious words” spoken by Tian Chua were calling on Malaysians to “stand up and fight against racism and corruption.”
Tian Chua spoke these words at a public forum on 13 May 2013 at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Assembly Hall.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak promised in 2012 to abolish the 1948 Sedition Act, but until now, this promise has not been fulfilled,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser.
“It now appears that the Malaysian government is holding on to this law to silence political opponents and human rights defenders who express critical views about what is happening in the country today,” she added.
Tian Chua received a penalty of three months’ imprisonment plus a fine of RM1,800 (approximately US$435).
Although he will still be entitled to keep his seat as Batu’s representative to the Malaysian Parliament, his conviction sends a clear and dangerous message that politically critical comments or dissenting opinions from anyone, including a Member of Parliament, will not be tolerated by the government, the ICJ says.
Several other people were also charged for sedition for their speeches at the same public forum where Tian Chua spoke: activists Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Md. Rais, Haris Fathillah Mohamed Ibrahim, and Safwan Anang.
All of them have already been convicted in the past few months under the same provision of the Sedition Act.
“By its very terms, the 1948 Sedition Act contemplates restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are grossly overbroad and inconsistent with the basic rule of law and human rights principles,” said Gil.
The lawyers of Tian Chua, Latheefa Koya and N. Surendran, have confirmed that they will be seeking a stay order on the basis that they will be appealing the sentence and conviction.
The ICJ has repeatedly expressed its concerns regarding the restrictive effect the 1948 Sedition Act has on freedom of expression in the country.
The law criminalizes speech and publications considered to have “seditious tendencies”, a term that is very ambiguously and vaguely defined.
Last year, the ICJ expressed alarm over amendments made by the Malaysian Parliament strengthening the law and broadening its scope, making the “promotion” of hatred between religions an offence.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +66840923575 ; e: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org