MPs, Bar criticise Dr Mahathir over Sedition Act

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 9 – The one voice with which the Pakatan Harapan leaders spoke in support of a common manifesto prior to the 14th general election, has lost its clarity and meaning as the Cabinet continues to go separate ways on key issues, such as education, tolls, and Sabah-Sarawak autonomy, among others.

The latest issue is the promise to repeal the Sedition Act, which has already seen the views of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad being contradicted by two MPs, one of whom is a Cabinet member.

Bernama reported Mahathir as saying that the government will not set any timeline to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, because “repealing the act will take time as it needs to be passed by Parliament”.

Dr Mahathir said the act stays for the time being and the law continues to be applied.

“I am not going to bother about people calling me names or insulting me,” he said referring to arrests made under the Sedition Act against Umno leader Lokman Adam’s brother.

Going back on promises

The prime minister added that it will take time for Attorney-General Tommy Thomas to go through all the laws that PH had promised to review or repeal.

“Some laws will involve the Constitution. If it involves the Constitution, we need a two-thirds majority and we don’t have a two-thirds majority,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

Mahathir seems to be going back to an excuse he had used previously when arguing why Sarawak and Sabah could not be given the autonomy desired now.

No need two-thirds majority

Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh was quick to rebut the argument, saying it was wrong for the PM to say repealing the draconian act is not a priority and needed a two-thirds majority.

“He seems to suggest that the repeal of the Sedition Act would be a tedious process and as such, would take time. With the greatest of respect, this cannot be the case as such repeal does not require a two-third majority as is the case where an amendment is proposed to the Federal Constitution.

“The continued use of the said Act despite the assurance given by PH that it will be abolished eventually is an absolute waste of public funds and government resources and serves no useful purpose.

“The government should be concentrating its efforts in proposing new laws to tackle racial hatred in order to curtail such problems from occurring in the future.

There is no need for the Sedition Act to remain as the government has already committed to introducing other more effective laws, such as the Religious and Racial Hatred Act,” Ramkarpal said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Gobind: Moratorium proposal to Cabinet

His brother, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh, also weighed in on the issue, saying that he will take the first step of calling for a moratorium on the act at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

He added that the repeal of the Sedition Act should take place at the next sitting of Parliament.

“PH is on track to repeal Sedition Act. AG working on it. Just checked again this afternoon (yesterday),” he said on his Twitter account yesterday.

It was also reported that lawyers have criticised the prime minister, saying he showed a lack of commitment to a moratorium on the act pending its repeal.

Bar: Keep your GE14 manifesto ‘Promise 27’

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar issued a statement urging the government to prioritise its efforts to repeal this and all other draconian and oppressive legislation.

“The recent spate of investigations involving allegedly seditious acts has been disquieting, and calls into question the Pakatan Harapan Government’s commitment to ‘Promise 27’ of its election manifesto, namely to abolish laws that it has itself described as ‘oppressive’ and ‘tyrannical’ – with the Sedition Act being first on its list.

“While not condoning rude, insulting or disrespectful behaviour, the Malaysian Bar calls upon the Government to uphold the primacy of the right to freedom of speech and expression, in abidance to Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution,” Bar president George Varughese said.