MALAYSIA: Crazy to charge law lecturer with sedition

by Kee Thuan Chye

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” I hope this famous quotation that has been variously attributed to Sophocles, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Anderson Scott holds true for Malaysia, where the Barisan Nasional-led government appears to have gone crazy from its recent untrammelled and unreasonable use of the Sedition Act to silence dissenters.

In recent months, Opposition politicians have been charged under the Act even when what some of them are accused of is not even the slightest bit seditious. Now law lecturer Azmi Sharom has fallen victim to it for what he said to the reporter of an article published by The Malay Mail Online on August 14.

The article was about what legal experts had to say about how the Selangor menteri besarcrisis could be resolved at the time. Azmi was among others sought for their opinion on it.

I know Azmi well. He is not one to commit sedition. He is not a chest-thumping rabble-rouser. He is a peace-loving citizen who wants a better Malaysia. He once told me that in speaking up, he only wants to do “the right thing”. And he’s been doing it admirably, through his aptly titled ‘Brave New World’ column in The Star and his participation in forums explaining the law and the Federal Constitution to fellow Malaysians.

What he’s been saying about the state of the country has been sound and clear-headed. He goes by the law. So he knows the boundaries. His remark in The Malay Mail Onlinearticle falls within the boundaries. Otherwise, he would not have said it. I am certain of that. Looking at what came out in that article, I cannot see any seditious element in it.

This is the section of the text in which his comments are reported:

Citing the Perak case, law lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Sharom cautioned against such action outside the state assembly, and insisted the lawmakers wait until next sitting to indicate their lack of confidence.

“You don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place,” the University of Malaya lecturer said, referring to the Perak crisis.

“I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible.”

Azmi said the open spectacle of a no-confidence motion would leave Khalid no choice but to resign from his post and possibly call for the dissolution of the state assembly,

“A vote by the house of representative should be done in the house of representative,” said Azmi.

Can anyone tell me what is seditious about that? And yet he is being charged with sedition in relation to that article? What is the Attorney-General thinking?

Azmi was actually calling for transparency in the handling of the Selangor MB crisis, cautioning Pakatan Rakyat to do the right thing. As for what happened in Perak, he was expressing an opinion. What is wrong with that? It so happens that he doesn’t think BN’s takeover of the Perak state government from Pakatan at the time was legally done. Isn’t he entitled to his opinion? What is seditious about that?

From the look of it, the law appears to be a pliable entity in Malaysia these days. And in the absence of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Government seems to be resorting to the Sedition Act to silence dissent. Even when the dissent makes sense.

Last month alone, Opposition politicians Nizar Jamaluddin, Rafizi Ramli, N. Surendran, Khalid Samad and R.S.N. Rayer were arrested and charged, the last three with sedition. In Rayer’s case, he was charged for uttering the words “Umno celaka”. What, pray tell, is seditious about calling a political party “celaka”? It may be considered rude, but surely not seditious. Has the Attorney-General become so confused that he thinks Umno is the country when it only happens to be one of the political parties in the coalition that runs the country?

But charging Azmi with sedition is definitely the wrong thing to do. The message that is being sent out through his persecution may strike fear in the meek, the poorly informed, the less educated, and it may pacify those who form BN’s target audience, but it will not sit well with many others. These others will think the Government has gone mad through desperation. They will think that Prime Minister Najib Razak is flexing his muscles with the use of the Sedition Act to rebut former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s recent criticism of him as a weak leader.

I wonder if he is behind the sedition charge spree (although the Prime Minister’s Office has oddly declared that it has nothing to do with it) in order to be able to strut like a peacock at the Umno general assembly that’s taking place in late November and show that he deserves to be Umno president. I, however, think that Najib will be a stronger leader if he ignores Mahathir’s rantings and becomes his own man. He will more likely be called a true jantan (male) when he finally repeals the Sedition Act he promised to do two years ago – even though he also said it would be replaced by a new Act.

As it is, the sedition charges are inadvertently creating heroes. The fact that the courtroom at which Azmi was charged was packed with supporters, many of them students, speaks for itself. Najib talks so much about the need for BN to win the support of the young, but the opposite is happening. Earlier, in 2013, student activists Adam Adli and Safnan Awang were also charged with sedition. Imagine how this would impact on their contemporaries.

In any case, the repression of free speech, whether through the use of the Sedition Act or other means, is unhealthy. It may please Mahathir, who has time and again called on Najib to bring back the ISA and, therefore, detention without trial, but it will be detrimental to the country.

Repression will bring about negative consequences. Already, many are saying that we are not a country that is truly merdeka (independent) although we celebrated Merdeka Day only a few days ago. It was a hogwash celebration, asyiok sendiri (self-pleasing) celebration indulged in by the people who hold political power. They pay lip service to Merdeka even as they wield the law inherited from the British colonial masters – the Sedition Act.

As they continue to perform this travesty, especially under the guise of democracy, we await the … er, we shan’t say destruction of the BN government by the gods lest it be misinterpreted as seditious. We’ll just say we await the felicitous action of the gods on the BN government.

Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new bestselling book Can We Save Malaysia, Please!, now available in bookstores.

Document Type : Forwarded Article
Document ID : AHRC-FAT-024-2014
Countries : Malaysia,
Issues : Administration of justice,