Malaysia: Sedition Act Conviction of Karpal Singh Condemned
Asian Human Rights Group Calls for the Immediate Repeal of the Draconian Law
(Bangkok, 11 March 2014): The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a Bangkok-based regional human rights NGO with 47 member organisations in 16 Asian countries, joined the chorus of domestic and international condemnation of the conviction of opposition party leader and Member of Parliament, Karpal Singh, who was sentenced to a RM4,000 fine (approx. USD1,250) today. The High Court ruling could result in the disqualification of Karpal Singh as a Member of Parliament should the Court of Appeals and Federal Court uphold this decision.
Karpal Singh was found guilty for a remark made during a press conference in 2009, where he expressed his legal opinion that the Sultan of the state of Perak could be legally challenged for his decision in removing the then-incumbent Menteri Besar during the political crisis in the state. The colonial era Sedition Act, enacted in 1948, criminalises speeches with “sedition tendency”, an offence punishable by a maxium three-year jail term and a fine of RM5,000.
The regional human rights group viewed the High Court’s decision as part of an ongoing systematic crackdown on dissent in Malaysia. On 7 March 2014, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to a five-year jail term by the Court of Appeals, overturning an earlier decision by the High Court to acquit Anwar of sodomy charges.
“The conviction and sentencing of Karpal Singh appears to be politically-motivated and part of an ongoing systematic persecution by the Malaysian government aimed at silencing opposition and dissent. In addition to Karpal, at least seven other political activists and opposition leaders have charges under the Sedition Act pending against them,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, FORUM-ASIA’s executive director.
The conviction of Karpal Singh has already raised serious concerns from both at the domestic and international levels, including by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who on 7 March 2014 urged the Malaysian government to review the conviction and repeal the Sedition Act.
FORUM-ASIA has repeatedly called on the Malaysian government to repeal the Act, which it describes as “draconian, outdated, and fraught with vague provisions that seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law”. Najib Razak, the current Prime Minister, had in 2012 pledged to repeal the Sedition Act.
“The Prime Minister’s pledge in 2012 to repeal the Sedition Act as part of his purported reforms was indeed an implicit admission of the draconian nature of the Act. To now not only renege on his promise by failing to repeal the Act, but to actually increase the use of this law against opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists reveals the farce of his so-called reforms,” said Balais-Serrano.
“We thus reiterate our strongest call to the Malaysian government to immediately repeal the Sedition Act. In the meantime, all charges and convictions under the Act must be dropped and quashed. Anything short of this will further worsen the already tarnished human rights record of the Malaysian government, and in particular the leadership of Najib Razak,” stressed Balais-Serrano.
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