Malaysia's Sedition Act likely to be repealed

Alternative would be to replace it with new law, minister says; safeguards for royals stay

PUTRAJAYA • The Sedition Act will be either repealed or replaced with a new law, or its provisions placed under the Penal Code, Malaysia's government has announced.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong said that despite the planned move, defamatory safeguards for royalty would still be maintained.

He said the repeal of the Sedition Act would allow for more freedom of expression in the country.

"We will have a new Act to replace it or, alternatively, it will be placed under the Penal Code and will include certain sections that cover defamation towards the royal institution," he said in a recent interview to mark Pakatan Harapan's (PH) first anniversary since taking over Putrajaya following last year's general election.

"We want to ensure not all statements can be seditious. Certain statements can be allowed some freedom," he said. "We do not mind if the government is criticised, if it is constructive."

The Sedition Act is among several laws that the PH pledged to reform in its election manifesto. The others include the Anti-Fake News Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or Sosma, Prevention of Crime Act and National Security Council Act.

Datuk Liew, who is the de facto Law Minister, said the government was firm that the Sedition Act would go, and the Cabinet had given its nod. "I expect the Act to be abolished this year. It should be tabled in Parliament in July or October," he said.

He also commented on the failed bid by the government to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution, which would define Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah as equal partners in the Malaysian federation.

In April, the government tabled a Bill to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution. However, it failed to get the two-thirds majority required after the opposition Barisan Nasional, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak abstained from the vote.

Mr Liew acknowledged that the government would now find it tough to amend any law requiring a two-thirds majority following that attempt. "On the amendment of Article 1(2), the understanding was that we would get the support needed from opposition parties. But at the last moment, they had their instructions from their party whips and chose to abstain from voting," he said.

"The best guarantee for the government in future constitutional amendments would be to have 148 MPs, or the two-thirds majority. Are we going to actively pursue that? I do not know, I leave that to the Prime Minister," he added.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia's Sedition Act likely to be repealed'. Print Edition | Subscribe