By Boo Su-Lyn
Malay Mail Online
SEPTEMBER 12 — Despite the ongoing government crackdown under the Sedition Act against opposition lawmakers, a student, a law professor and even a journalist, I was generally unconcerned as I figured that the courts would never entertain such ridiculous charges.
Then a student activist named Muhammad Safwan Anang was sentenced last Friday to 10 months’ jail for sedition. His crime? Making a speech about overthrowing the government.
Besides investigating a Malaysiakini journalist for sedition over an article that put the police in a bad light, the authorities are similarly probing a mosque official under the 1948 law for allegedly criticising the police over their actions against the Penang voluntary patrol squad.
Universiti Malaya (UM) law professor Dr Azmi Sharom was charged with sedition simply for commenting on the 2009 Perak Constitutional crisis in relation to the current imbroglio over the Selangor mentri besar’s position.
If the court can send a student activist to jail over an emotional speech at a forum, it would not be surprising to see imprisonment sentences being meted out to far more influential people like politicians, journalists and academics.
At the launch of the #MansuhAktaHasutan campaign by the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee for the repeal of the Sedition Act, former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan urged the audience not to be afraid.
“In this day and age, in the 21st century, don’t expect people to keep quiet. Don’t think you’re putting the fear of God into people,” Ambiga said.
But it’s hard not to be afraid.
I am afraid.
Other people are afraid.
A lawyer recently told me that a forum in which he was scheduled to speak in — on whether the royalty, Islam and Malays in the Federal Constitution are still relevant in Malaysia — was cancelled after a panelist pulled out.
I abhor self-censorship as much as everyone else. And I believe that as part of a democracy, we have the right to criticise any darn thing we want to.
Our freedom of speech and expression is also enshrined in the Federal Constitution, the highest law of the land.
How can we be prohibited from criticising or questioning what is happening in the Selangor mentri besar crisis? It is us voters who have the biggest stake in the political crisis engulfing Malaysia’s richest state. Surely we have the right to question all the players in this political game.
Malaysia is not an autocracy nor a theocracy.
The authorities is made up of mere mortals who make mistakes like the rest of us ordinary citizens, they should be equally subject to censure and reproach.
But they are not because the government wields a colonial-era law against us when we attempt to challenge the status quo.
Civil society tells us to stand up for our rights. There have been many suggestions to hold a mass protest against the Sedition Act.
Yes, we can do all that. We can march down the streets of KL and wave placards for an afternoon, then go back to our daily lives. But nothing changes.
If we really want to beat the Sedition Act, every single one of us should do precisely what the government and the Attorney-General’s Chambers think is seditious.
If a thousand people were to say and write seditious things every day for a month, it would paralyse the system. In a secular democracy and a Constitutional monarchy, nothing should be protected from censure.
Yes, I am afraid of the Sedition Act, as many others are.
But perhaps if we all gather our courage to keep voicing criticisms that the government doesn’t want to hear, we will make them realise how futile it is to silence the rakyat. They can jail a few seditious people, a dozen, maybe even a hundred. But they cannot imprison a thousand, 10,000 or a million people for sedition.
Then maybe, just maybe, the Sedition Act will go.
Boo Su-Lyn is a feminist who loves reading fiction. She tweets at @boosulyn.
First published at . Used with permission.