ARTICLE 19 and 8 partner organisations working in press freedom, civil liberties, and international human rights advocacy have written an open letter to the Malaysian Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) to urge the repeal of the Sedition Act, which is currently subject to challenge in the Court of Appeals in Wan Ji Bin Wan Hussin’s case.
Wan Ji’s case is a reminder that successive Malaysian governments have broken their promises to repeal the archaic Sedition Act, which has primarily been used to ‘suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom on the internet’.
Successive Malaysian governments have promised to repeal or reform the Sedition Act precisely because it does not comply with rule of law and freedom of expression guarantees. As described further in the Annex below, for instance, international, regional, and national precedents require that criminal laws be sufficiently clear, so that individuals can understand what is criminal, and what is not.
These ambiguities have led to rampant abuse, as documented by leading watchdogs — some of the signatories of this letter. According to numbers released by the government in 2023, there have been 367 investigations launched under the Sedition Act over the previous five years, and cases have spiked during times of heightened criticism of the government.
The Sedition Act further fails to comply with the widely-accepted requirement that any restriction on freedom of expression must be necessary and proportional. It has been interpreted, as in Wan Ji’s case, not to require a risk of violence but merely risk of an adverse reaction, which encompasses much more minute disruptions to public order and sets a low threshold for criminal prosecution and punishment. Indeed, various international, regional, and national bodies have held that there must be an imminent risk of violence for the prosecution of speech offences. The Sedition Act falls far short of that.
For more information
Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Programme Officer firstname.lastname@example.org