Malaysia lawyers protest against Sedition Act, urge Najib to honour promise to repeal law

Members of the Malaysian Bar Council participating in the march, calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Members of the Malaysian Bar Council participating in the march, calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

NEARLY 500 Malaysian lawyers braved the noon day heat in their suits and ties to protest this year's "sedition blitz" outside Parliament building on Thursday morning, saying they were dutybound to fight an unjust law.

Over 20 people, including academics, lawmakers and students, have been hauled up for questionable offences under the Sedition Act, such as insulting the ruling Umno party and saying top judges have erred in case decisions. Some of them have been convicted.

This is despite Prime Minister Najib Razak's pledge in 2012 to repeal the law as part of a raft of democratic reforms to win over liberal voters in last year's general election.

Critics say the Sedition Act is used to stifle political dissent.

"It is clear the act is not used for purposes of security but to clamp down on differing views," Malaysian Bar Council president Christopher Leong told reporters before a walk to the legislative house.

A delegation of 10 senior lawyers then met a Cabinet minister who received on behalf of the prime minister a memorandum calling for Mr Najib to deliver on his promise and impose a moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act in the meantime.

But Umno has said a survey of its grassroots show that three-quarters of divisions are calling not just for the Sedition Act to be maintained, but a return of the repealed Internal Security Act which has been used to imprison opposition leaders without trial.

Mr Najib has tried to position himself as a reform-centred moderate but is under pressure to veer to the right.

He appeared to backtrack on his 2012 vow, saying recently that his government must consider the views of all stakeholders to decide whether to repeal, replace or amend the Sedition Act.

shannont@sph.com.sg