Repeal the Sedition Act in Malaysia
Freedom of expression is under attack in Malaysia. In recent years, civil society activists, academics, political opponents and others speaking out against the government have been charged under the Sedition Act and other repressive laws used to stifle dissent. This petition highlights two individuals who have been targeted by the government and calls on the relevant authorities to drop these charges and others like them.
In August 2014, Member of Parliament N. Surendran was arrested and charged with two counts under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act. Surendran’s statements were made in the course of carrying out his duties as the lawyer for the de-facto leader of the opposition party and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim.
Surendran’s first charge was for a press statement he released on 18 April 2014 which criticised the Court of Appeal’s ruling in Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, calling it “flawed, defensive and insupportable.” His second charge was for criticising the ruling of the court again, this time in a Youtube video on 8 August 2014 at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, in the capacity of defending his client.
On 13 October 2015, Khalid Ismath, a student activist and former prisoner of conscience, was charged with 11 counts under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and three counts under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act for a number of Facebook posts that were allegedly offensive to the royal family of the State of Johor and the Royal Malaysian Police. He was also subjected to unjust treatment by the criminal justice system where he was arrested, re-arrested, denied bail and detained for 22 days, for merely speaking out. During his detention, he was allegedly ill-treated by the authorities and kept in solitary confinement.
Section 4 (1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act both carry a first-offence penalty of a fine not exceeding RM5,000 (USD$1,214) or a jail term not exceeding three years, or both, with a jail term not exceeding five years for a subsequent offence.
YOUR PETITION CALLING ON THE ATTORNEY GENERAL MOHAMED APANDI ALI AND PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK TO DROP THE ABOVE CHARGES IMMEDIATELY AND UNCONDITIONALLY :
I am extremely concerned about the recent use of the Sedition Act, particularly against N. Surendran and Khalid Ismath, which is a clear attack on freedom of expression in Malaysia.
In 2015 alone there were at least 91 instances of the Sedition Act being used to arrest, investigate or charge individuals - nearly five times as many as during the first 50 years of the Act’s existence.
The ongoing cases of Khalid Ismath, a student activist, charged under the Sedition Act for comments that he made on Facebook, and N.Surendran, charged under the Act for statements made in his capacity as lawyer of Anwar Ibrahim, are especially concerning. Both are being targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and charges against them must immediately be dropped.
The continued use of the Sedition Act represents a blatant attack on freedom of expression and has chilling implications for free speech. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is provided for in the Federal Constitution and international law. It is also enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right includes the “freedom to hold opinions without interference” and to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
I therefore call on you to:
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against N. Surendran and Khalid Ismath and others facing trial for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression in Malaysia.
- Ensure individuals are not subjected to any form of restrictions or harassment in connection to their peaceful exercising of their right to freedom of expression.
- Repeal the Sedition Act and other laws which restrict the right to freedom of expression, and comply with international human rights law and standards.