The ICJ strongly condemns Malaysia’s decision to retain and strengthen sedition law

The ICJ today strongly condemned the decision by Prime Minister Najib Razak to retain and even strengthen the country’s 1948 Sedition Act despite having made a commitment in 2012 to repeal the Act.

The ICJ has repeatedly expressed its concern that the Sedition Act has been used to stifle and criminalize the exercise of freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders, lawyers, political activists, among others.

The ICJ considers the Act as it stands to be incompatible with international human rights standards and to be made still more repugnant by the politically loaded manner in which it is typically applied.

In early September, the ICJ denounced the use of sedition against two members of the legal profession, Dr. Azmi Sharom (photo) and N. Surendran for commenting on questions of law and public policy.

On 20 September 2014, Edmund Bon a prominent human rights and constitutional lawyer, was questioned by the police regarding comments made in a 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The 1948 Sedition Act, originally enacted by the British colonial government and amended several times over the years, criminalizes speech and publications considered to have “seditious tendencies”.

The term “seditious tendencies” is ambiguously defined to mean any kind of speech or publication that causes “hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection” against any ruler or the government or promotes “ill will and hostility between the different races or classes”.

The law also considers “seditious” any speech or publication that questions the special privileges of the Malay people, as provided in the Constitution.

Furthermore, sedition is a strict liability offence in Malaysia, which means that the intention of a person allegedly making seditious statements is irrelevant.

For instance, a person making a statement may not have the intent to cause “hatred or contempt” towards the government, but may nonetheless be held liable for sedition if authorities believe that the person in fact incited such feelings.

The ICJ considers that the Act, by its very terms, contemplates restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are grossly overbroad and inconsistent with basic rule of law and human rights principles.

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