KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak reiterated today his 2012 pledge to remove the Sedition Act 1948 and replace the controversial law with the proposed National Harmony Act to deal with religious and racial issues, amid growing discontent over its use on dissenters.
He also said the government allows freedom of speech on social media, but warned that the authorities will use the existing law on those who abuse that freedom.
“I want to issue a warning that the existing law will be imposed on anyone attempting to jeopardise peace. This is certainly in force,” he was quoted saying by The Star Online while at the Jerlun Umno divisional delegates meeting in Kedah.
Najib’s reiteration follows a claim by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, that the prime minister had only promised to review the Sedition Act and not abolish the 66-year-old law, according to a report earlier today by news portal The Malaysian Insider.
A search of old news reports for Najib’s past remarks on the Sedition Act showed the prime minister did say the law would soon be repealed, not just once but repeatedly.
According to a video of Najib’s speech at the July 2012 Attorney-General’s Chambers dinner, the prime minister said: “The government has decided to abolish the Sedition Act 1948 and replace it with a new bill known as the National Harmony Act.”
“The decision to repeal the Sedition Act was made because we wanted to find a mechanism to determine the best balance between the need to ensure freedom of speech for all citizens in accordance with the Federal Constitution, and the need to respect the diversities that exist in the country,” he said in the video that was uploaded on Najib’s YouTube page.
A year later in July 2013, the prime minister reportedly told British broadcaster BBC’s World News programme that the repeal of the Sedition Act was “coming”, pointing out that Putrajaya has already abolished the ISA and the Emergency Ordinance.
The Prime Minister’s Office also said in a statement on August 30 this year that the “Sedition Act will be replaced by the National Harmony Bill”.
The government spokesman also said the drafting of the new law will take some time as it is being worked on together with civil society and the public.
“The government welcomes feedback from all sections of society, and hopes to present the draft Bill to Parliament by the end of next year,” the spokesman said.
The National Unity and Consultative Council, which is an independent body under the purview of the National Unity and Integration Department, has proposed three laws to replace the Sedition Act.
The government’s use of the colonial-era law to arrest and prosecute a number of people who hold dissenting views, from opposition lawmakers to student activists and the latest, a reporter and a professor, have spurred Malaysians to band together and demand the Najib administration repeal the law.
“The government must repeal it as soon as possible or people will see the government as not honouring its promise. The recent escalation of the charges under the Act looks like the government is cracking down on dissent,” Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, who heads the prime minister’s Global Movement of Moderates initiative, told Malay Mail Online today.