30 March 2016
Bangkok, Thailand --- The Malaysian government must immediately halt the politically motivated sedition investigation launched by the police against members of the Malaysian Bar who had called for the Attorney General’s resignation, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.
“The Malaysian authorities are using the archaic, colonial Sedition Act to harass and silence lawyers who are demanding that the country’s legal authorities observe international standards of propriety and independence,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia.
“This latest misuse of the Sedition Act constitutes a brazen political attack on the independence of the country’s lawyers,” Gil said.
On 29 March 2016, lawyers Charles Hector, Francis Pereira, and Shanmugam Ramasamy, received letters from police authorities summoning them to the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters on 31 March 2016 for the purpose of taking down their statements regarding a complaint filed against them under the Sedition Act (1948).
The three had proposed a motion during the Malaysian Bar’s 70th Annual General Assembly, calling for the resignation of Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali. The motion was passed by a majority vote.
Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar, was also notified that her statement would likewise be taken but she was not summoned to the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters.
The Malaysian Bar demanded the resignation of Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali after he summarily ended the investigation of alleged corruption by Prime Minister Najib Razak. The Prime Minister appointed Attorney-General Apandi on 27 July 2015, in the midst of the corruption investigation. Attorney General Apandi subsequently cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of any criminal wrongdoing and instructed the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to close the investigations.
“In 2012, Prime Minister Razak had promised to repeal the Sedition Act, but since then his government has increasingly relied on the law’s impermissibly vague and broad language as a useful tool of repression,” Gil said.
“International standards highlight that protecting the independence of lawyers and their professional associations is essential for upholding the rule of law and the administration of justice. This police investigation is clearly designed to challenge that independence,” said Gil.
“The Malaysian Bar has been one of the few institutions consistently defending the rule of law and human rights in Malaysia, and it is crucial to maintain the ability of its members to engage critically in upholding the standards of professional integrity and independence.”
The ICJ urges the Malaysian government to repeal the archaic Sedition Act 1948 and fulfill the commitment it made in 2012 to abolish it.
Unless repealed or considerably revised so that it will be consistent with international law, the Sedition Act 1948 will continue to unduly limit and repress the freedom of expression, not only of lawyers and human rights defenders, but of all Malaysians exercising their fundamental rights.
Like other citizens, lawyers are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association, and assembly. Lawyers have the right to take part in the public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and the promotion and protection of human rights (Principle 23).
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers also state that lawyers are entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests and protect their professional integrity (Principle 24). Governments should ensure that these professional associations are able to function without improper interference (Principle 25).
In its 2016 resolution on human rights in the administration of justice, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously affirmed that "the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, the integrity of the judicial system and an independent legal profession are essential prerequisites for the protection of human rights, the rule of law, good governance and democracy, and for ensuring that there is no discrimination in the administration of justice, and should therefore be respected in all circumstances"(Resolution 30/7, 1 October 2015).
Malaysia’s Sedition Act 1948, originally enacted by the British colonial government and amended times over the years, criminalizes speech and publications considered to have “seditious tendencies”.
The term “seditious tendencies” is ambiguously defined to mean any kind of speech or publication that causes “hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection” against any ruler or the government or promotes “ill will and hostility between the different races or classes”.
The law also considers “seditious” any speech or publication that questions the special privileges of the Malay people, as provided in the Constitution.
Furthermore, sedition is a strict liability offence in Malaysia, which means that the intention of a person allegedly making seditious statements is irrelevant.