[Blog] The Sedition Act is an archaic law being use by the powers that be to silence political opposition. By Jose Mario De Vega

The Sedition Act is an archaic law being use by the powers that be to silence political opposition

I refer to Hafidz Baharom’s “The Sedition Act kills rationality and intellect”, Free Malaysia Today, September 7th.

I overwhelmingly concur with the brilliant exposition of the writer and the lucidness of the various theses that he advance calling for the repeal of the said act.

As the he stated, “first and foremost, I would like to make it known why I’m calling for the repeal of this act” not because he is a supporter of the opposition, but because he wanted a sense of fair-play in the political arena as a whole.

Mario De Vega

Our commentator categorically stipulated that:

“I am asking for the repeal of the Sedition Act only because I find it very worrying that the government is using it to arrest educators and journalists as well.

“I have a passion for defending the Fourth Estate because I was once a part of that collective. Granted, there are media outlets that fidget to find proper angles to attract readers, but in the end the message in the stories published come entirely from who they interviewed.”

Commentaries:

It is my firm view and so held that the Sedition Act is an archaic and obsolete law being use and manipulated by the powers to silence, to coy and threatened not only the political opposition, but also the Fourth Estate and the Academia.

The Fourth Estate represents the media, while the educator represents the Academia.

From history we shall see that, more often than not, it is always the teachers and the journalist, which serves as the primary thorns or the bloody pain in the asses of the powers that be.

My view on the matter is the inescapable fact that such is the case by virtue of the truth that, a teacher is specifically in the position to see, in a bird’s eye view the rest of the social ills that affects society at large and the nation in its totality.

The same is true with the journalist. They are the one who gathers all the news and events that society needs to hear and learn. They are the one who are truly aware of the prevailing social reality.

Hence, it is not ironic that totalitarian states arbitrarily sent to the gaol, the dungeon, in jail and prison these kinds of people, because they are the one who embarrass the powers that be in depicting the true picture of the body politics.

The journalist will land in hot water for writing and/or reporting the brutal truth and the teacher may be dismiss from his or her teaching job because the same taught the inconvenient truth and the uncomfortable reality.

The Constitutionality of the Sedition Act

It is my firm contention that the Sedition Act is unconstitutional and inherently illegal by virtue of its contravention and grave violation of the Constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech.

Article 10(2) of the Constitution which gave permission to Parliament to enact “such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or of any Legislative Assembly or to provide against contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any offence” — in my view undeniably defeats the very purpose of the Constitution.

The effect is that, it is no longer the Constitution that is supreme, but rather it is now Parliament which has absolute control and power to determine what they deem as necessary or expedient in the interest of the Federation.

This is an irony and a mockery!

In all civilized and democratic jurisdiction that subscribed to a republican form of government, it is a well-entrenched rule that the Bill of Rights, wherein the Freedom of Speech is one of its heart, can never be negated, impinged or diminished by any law.

The Bill of Rights is a defense given by the fundamental law as a shield and an injunction against the arbitrariness and the enormous power of the state.

Further, Article 10(4) also states that “Parliament may pass law prohibiting the questioning of any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III, article 152, 153 or 181 otherwise than in relation to the implementation thereof as may be specified in such law”.

I overwhelmingly concur that these portions of the Constitution which have been criticized by human rights advocates, who charge that “under the Malaysian Constitution, the test is not whether or not the restriction is necessarily but the much lower standard of whether or not Parliament deems the restrictions necessary or even expedient. There is no objective requirement that the restriction actually is necessary or expedient and the latter standard is much lower than that of necessity.”

Again, this is an irony and a mockery!

The purpose of the Constitution is to empower the people and to delineate the limit of the discretion of the powers that be, not the other way around!

As already stated and by way of a necessary reiteration the Bill of Rights is a guaranty against governmental arbitrariness and in all true democratic government, it is supposed that Parliament cannot pass ex post facto laws, stifle the freedom of expression, limit the political rights of the people and the citizens, impair the obligation of contracts, or curtail religious freedom.

Where can you find a Constitution that instead of empowering its citizens had rather delimited their rights?

What a shame!!!

Here are the lists of notable personalities, “key people hauled to court for sedition and criminal defamation” that were sued under the said draconian act, as reported by the Malaysiakini, September 8th:

Mohamad Sabu, P Uthayakumar, the late great Karpal Singh, Tian Chua, Teresa Kok, Abdullah Zaik, N Surendran, Khalid Samad, RSN Rayer, Rafizi Ramli, Azmi Sharom, David Orok, Safwan Anang, Ali Abdul Jalil and Nizar Jalamuddin.

I am wondering, if the powers that be truly subscribed to the principle of justice and equality, how come Perkasa, Ibrahim Ali and all of those fanatical and racist groups are not sued under the said nefarious act?

The Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim as reported by the Free Malaysia Today, “Anwar hails “brave critics”, August 30th that:

“What’s the point of celebrating Merdeka day if we don’t have freedom from our own government? Merdeka is for the rakyat.”

It was also highlighted by the said report that:

“In recent days, N Surendran, Khalid Samad, RSN Rayer and Nizar Jamaluddin have been summoned to court on charges of sedition, following Teresa Kok and Tian Chua, who were charged earlier.”

I agree with the question of Hafidz Baharom that “how can it be seditious to offer an academic opinion? I don’t know. But I do know that if the authorities dig up what I’ve written in the past, they would probably start investigating me too.”

Further, I also concur with him that:

“I do not believe there should be any limits to education when it comes to generating intellectual discourse and study. We all know that knowledge is about challenging boundaries. Historically even, we know that the Islamic Renaissance period happened because there were scientists who dared to challenge boundaries.

“Are we going back to the age where Galileo was placed under house arrest for saying the earth orbited the sun?”

Justice George A. Malcolm wrote in one case that:

“The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and unjust accusation; the wound may be relieved by the balm of a clear conscience. A public official must not be too thin-skinned with reference to comment upon his official acts.”

Hence, it follows that the freedom of the people to freely express themselves is not only paramount but a vital part of a true blue democratic and republican government.

Indeed, “we should be forming a society where everything is discussed rationally, factually and intellectually.”

Therefore, instead of charging Azmi Sharom and other individuals under the Sedition Act, we should and we must dropped all cases and abolished (not merely to repeal) the sedition act altogether because it is a black stain to our laws and our nation, for in truth and in fact that stupid and impertinent act is an archaic law only being use by the powers that be to silence political opposition, harassed the freedom of the artists, impinged on academic freedom and frightened the intellectuals!

Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

Philosophy lecturer
Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Unibersidad de Manila

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