KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 — The country's non-Malay and non-Muslim communities must exercise extra restraint when speaking in public or on social media today, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim warned, saying Malaysia has entered "the age of sedition".
The former de facto law minister suggested a racial bias in the current sedition crackdown, claiming that Muslims who utter derogatory terms about those of other faiths are less likely to face charges.
But non-Malays and non-Muslims must be "very careful" with what they post on Twitter or Facebook as they may find themselves thrown behind bars, he said.
"That's the way the cookie crumbles in this country," Zaid wrote in his blog yesterday.
"The loyalty of non-Malays and non-Muslims are (sic) being questioned all the time, as is the loyalty of those in Sabah and Sarawak who are unhappy with the treatment they have received since the formation of Malaysia.
"So do not say or write what you feel, unless you are prepared to spend time in (the) Kajang (prison)," he said.
"I know it’s tempting," he added, "...to exercise your freedom and express your views, especially since you are exposed to the world through social media, but please exercise restraint."
Putrajaya recently embarked on a sedition crackdown, hauling up at least 15 anti-government dissidents and opposition politicians under the colonial-era law in the space of one month.
The sudden onslaught of charges has led to renewed calls for the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948, with politicians and activist groups mobilising nationwide campaigns in hopes of pressuring Putrajaya into fulfilling its 2012 pledge to do away with the law.
But critics believe the government is deliberately dithering on the promise due to pressure from strong right wing elements within Umno and its supporters, who want the Act to stay.
Defenders of the Sedition Act, primarily pro-establishment conservatives including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, contend that its removal will open the floodgates of attacks against the Bumiputera, Islam, and the Malay rulers in the absence of the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA).
Acknowledging this, Zaid said in democracies elsewhere in the world, constitutional monarchs are not spared from public criticism and unsavoury comments.
"The situation here is different," he pointed out. "Clearly, we are not the democracy we say we are and we are not the free country we were promised we would be on Malaysia Day in 1963."
"Leaders cannot be criticised or disagreed with publicly, or they will feel insulted. We are a semi-Caliphate, not too far removed from those in Iraq or Syria."
Zaid advised the country's non-Muslim and non-Malays against participating in street protests, saying at most, they may get some news coverage but "nothing will change".
Instead, he said, it would be better for the public to focus on fostering closer ties among the races at the grassroots level.
He pointed out that in Kelantan from where he hails, the relationship between the Malays and non-Malays are "excellent" both at community and personal levels.
In Sabah and Sarawak, the different tribes and communities are similarly close-knit but need to do more to cement their friendships across religious boundaries.
"Show our leaders that we do not subscribe to their story," he said.
"If we all work together to be a united people, there is only so much these leaders can do to break us.
"One day, they will be talking to themselves about the enemies from within, because no one else is listening, except their hired hands and sycophants."