The repeal of the Sedition Act becomes increasingly urgent, as calls for its use become increasingly ludicrous. The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) finds the call for a water bottling company to be investigated under the Act, for featuring pictures of the popular tourist destination Batu Caves, both worrying and farcical. The image comes from a Malaysian tourism site and is featured in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
The Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM) has called for the bottlers to be investigated under the Sedition Act or any other relevant act, due to the image of a Hindu god, Murugan, appearing on the bottle, which also has a halal certification logo on it. A spokesperson from the group has been quoted in local media reports as saying, “If they sell it without using the halal logo, it won’t be a problem but when you have both, it will definitely cause confusion among the Muslim community.”
CIJ is of the view that the continued existence of the Sedition Act, which is broad and arbitrary, discourages dialogue and discussion, instead allowing groups to call for the use of repressive legislation. It is the right of any group to be offended by the actions or words of others. However, this does not mean that every offending statement should be punishable by law. Actions that do not advocate hatred and incite discrimination, hostility or violence should not warrant legal punishment. Not only could non-legal means be used, the use of discussion, dialogue and debate can defuse tensions, cause greater understanding and lessen the possibility of discrimination, hostility or violence.
The recent actions of the government in investigating, arresting and charging a string of opposition parliamentarians, activists and legal academicians under the Sedition Act has only encouraged others to rely on this arbitrary and draconian act when they feel offended. This is not healthy in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours.
CIJ therefore calls on the Attorney-General to review the current charges under the Sedition Act and to drop all charges under this draconian law. CIJ also calls on the government to repeal the Sedition Act without delay. It also calls upon the government to stop feeding unhealthy racial and religious sentiment and instead to demonstrate leadership by calling for understanding and respect.