(Bangkok) – The Malaysian government should reconsider its decision to lift the moratorium on laws previously used to repress dissent, Human Rights Watch said today. The government announced on November 30, 2018, that the cabinet had lifted its moratorium on several of these laws, including the Sedition Act of 1948, in response to recent disturbances surrounding a Hindu temple in Subang Jaya.
“The government that so recently took office promising a commitment to human rights should not return to the draconian laws used by the previous Malaysian administration to stifle dissent,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government should reconsider its decision, which is a big step backward on the road to reform.”
Malaysia’s former Barisan Nasional government repeatedly used the Sedition Act of 1948 to arrest and prosecute critics of the government. The new government ran on an election manifesto promising to repeal the law and to amend laws such as the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998, used to punish critical speech online, and laws permitting administrative detention.
On October 11, the communications and multimedia minister, Gobind Singh Deo, announced that the Cabinet had agreed to a moratorium on use of the Sedition Act pending repeal. Similarly, Malaysia announced during the November 8 United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights situation that the government had made a “firm decision” to suspend use of the Sedition Act pending repeal.
The decision to lift the suspension is unwarranted and poses human rights concerns. The November 26 confrontation over the relocation of the Hindu temple, which involved a night of rioting and vandalism in which a firefighter was critically injured, raised serious law and order concerns. But Malaysia has sufficient laws on the books to punish those responsible without resorting to laws that the government itself has acknowledged should be repealed. The Malaysian Penal Code contains extensive provisions dealing with criminal assemblies and rioting, criminal intimidation, and incitement that are more than adequate to cover the types of offenses committed on November 26.
“While Malaysia’s government has a responsibility to prevent violence, it needs to do so without falling back on abusive legislation,” Robertson said. “Otherwise, the Malaysian people will return to suffering from laws used in the past to violate fundamental human rights.”