KUALA LUMPUR • A brawl earlier this month at a downtown IT mall at the heart of Malaysia has prompted the government to push for a new law to address concerns over racial and religious hatred.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Joseph Kurup said that the new law would focus on preventive measures, education, moderation, harmony and rehabilitation.
He said it would be a new form of the National Harmony Act proposed years earlier but shelved along with plans to repeal the Sedition Act.
"The incident has helped us realise that we need a law which will help preserve harmony among Malaysia's multiracial and multi-religious communities," said Tan Sri Kurup in his speech after a walkabout at the shopping centre on Tuesday.
A petty theft at a mobile phone shop in Kuala Lumpur's Low Yat Plaza on July 11, fanned by incendiary posts on social media, snowballed into days of fighting and racial riots, pitting Malays against Chinese.
Calling the incident in the Bukit Bintang shopping district an isolated one that was sensationalised, Mr Kurup said: "This is what happens if we allow our emotions to take over. Violence should not be the means to solve an issue."
He added that no one should take the law into their own hands.
Mr Kurup, who is in charge of national unity, said if the situation was left unchecked, racial intolerance could get worse and hamper the country's effort to achieve developed-nation status by 2020.
"We need to find the best possible way to resolve our problems without the need to shout words that carry hatred or extremism."
Speaking to reporters later, Mr Kurup said that the proposed law was not aimed at replacing the Sedition Act.
In July 2012, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had announced that the Sedition Act 1948, which allows detention without trial, would be repealed and replaced with a National Harmony Act as part of the country's political transformation plan.
"The Sedition Act is on its own, it is a punitive law. The National Harmony Act will be an entirely new Bill," Mr Kurup said.
He added that the Bill would be tabled during the next Parliament meeting between October and December this year.
He said discussions were being held with the various stakeholders and non-governmental bodies to gather views on what should be included in the new law.
The minister added that feedback and the impact of social media on race relations would be brought to the attention of the relevant ministries.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK