The Malaysian Bar has received a pledge of support from the Law Society in its current fight against the country’s Sedition Act. The law in question places a prohibition on discourse that displays a “seditious tendency,” and dates back to the British colonial era.
Christopher Leong (pictured), president of the Malaysian Bar, described the law as “extremely objectionable and abhorrent.” He said that the law had been used to prosecute people who were “not terrorist types” and had no intentions of carrying out any illegal acts designed to bring down the government.
Rather, he said, “These are people who are expressing their thoughts about what the important issues for Malaysia are and how they ought to be addressed.”
This year alone, a Chancery Lane meeting was told, over twenty people have been investigated, charged, and prosecuted under the law after they expressed dissent. Among those who have suffered as a result of the law are legal professionals such as solicitors and professors of law.
The act was reportedly not in common use before 2011. However, that year saw Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA) repealed. The ISA allowed people to be detained indefinitely without the right to a fair trial, or to any trial at all.
Following the law’s repeal, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak issued a promise that the Sedition Act would be next in line for repeal. However, Leong said that “The irony of that” was the fact that “despite that promise, we have seen unprecedented use of the sedition laws earlier this year.”
Leong suggested, however, that the blame may not lay at the feet of the prime minister. He described the government under the current prime minister as “right-thinking with respect to decisions.” However, he said that the prime minister’s political party contained some who “are not supportive of his transformation programme.”
Leong is currently on a visit to London lasting for three days in total. He said that lawyers in Malaysia had benefited significantly from the support of their colleagues around the world, which had helped prevent acts of violence against them from “extremist elements” after they stood up for people’s rights.
“The support that we got from the Law Society and other organisations,” Leong said, “showed the authorities that this was not just a Malaysia issue, this was an international issue.”
Last month, a “walk for peace and freedom” was held by the Malaysian Bar in support of repealing the act. This marks only the fourth time that a street protest has ever been held by the Bar.