Clickbait title, clickbait picture. If clickbaiting was an actual offense, the title would be true. Unfortunately, the part we didn’t make up is that under the NEW Sedition Act, you CAN get jailed for sharing a controversial article. Even if you didn’t write it. So yeah, what we’re saying is PLEASE SHARE THIS ARICLE UGAIZ #backfire #ihatecilisos
What new Sedition Act?
“The UN Human Rights Office has long urged Malaysia to either repeal the Act or to bring it in line with international human rights standards. It is very disappointing that the government is now proposing to make a bad law worse.” – Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nation’s Human Rights High Commissioner
“The noose is getting tighter. We are experiencing what the Russians endured when Stalin was in power. We might be looking at one of our own,” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, Former Minister, suspended UMNO member, owner of Malaysia’s largest private law firm, The Malaysian Insider
Our poor MPs are seriously overworked this week. After spending over 12 hours hotly debating against POTA – the scary new Prevention of Terrorism Act (which got approved), they get ANOTHER highly-controversial bill put forward the next day – a New and IMPROVED Sedition Act!
Sadly, the opposition MPs didn’t know what hit em… And scarily enough, neither will most of you.
Yup, the same Sedition Act that’s been getting a whole lot of people in trouble last month is being enhanced – a total 180º turn from PM Najib’s 2009 promise to throw out the Act altogether. Yeah, we said “enhanced” instead of “made worse” because it’s not all bad news (or good news, if you’re pro-Sedition Act).
But still, that’s a headache for our MPs to lie in bed over. The question is, what can we, as the Rakyat, look forward to if the new changes (amendments) are approved?
To get a better understanding of this, we spoke to
- Our favorite lawyer friends Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty and Fahri Azzat of LoyarBurok
- Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming (#MPSerdang!) about the Parliamentary process.
- Ooi Heng of KPRU, for a copy of the Proposed Sedition Act Amendments 2015 (and here’s the original Sedition Act 1948)
Do note that all the points below are based on the original copy of the amendments. Some of these proposals have been changed or rejected altogether, but we figured that we’d keep them in just so ugaiz get a better idea of what could have been. So here are six highlights of the amended Sedition Act, starting with…
1. You could get jailed just for sharing this article
Let’s just make it clear – if you WROTE something that was seditious, you only get jailed if you DON’T take down the offending post and still use electronic devices. This will result in a RM 5,000 fine and a maximum 3-year prison sentence; as well as an additional fine of RM3,000 for every day you don’t take the post down. If you do, technically, you should be OKAY.
Plot twist: the prison sentence is a punishment to a punishment.
The actual punishment is that you’ll have to remove the post that got you sedited (got such a word ah?), and then you’ll be banned from using “any electronic device”. So what this means is NO INTERNET FOR YOU BAD BOY!
Eric Paulsen points out that this focus on electronic devices has never been done in Malaysia before, so there are many questions that have to be answered, such as how long the ban will be (and how it will be determined) and what devices you’ll actually be banned from.
However, another lawyer talked specifically about the scary inclusion of the word Propagation – in the law amendment.
“For social media users and those using smartphones, this would mean that a person would be liable if he or she shared on Facebook or Whatsapp or retweeted a seditious publication, even if he or she is not the maker of the said publication.” Syahredzan Johan, MalayMailOnline, 9 April 2015
Meaning that it can be open ended enough to include people who share it. You know, people like…………….. you.
Oh speaking of jail, we can also look forward to….
2. More time in prison (Minimum 3 years!)
Under the old sedition laws, you can be jailed MAXIMUM 3 years and fined RM 5,000 for the first offence and up to 5 years + a RM 5,000 fine for subsequent offences. This is per charge, mind you, so if you happen to be a satirical cartoonist and kena nine charges, well… you do the math la.
The amendment now makes 3 years the MINIMUM, up to a maximum prison sentence of 7 years. What this means is that no matter how light your offence is, the court is forced to give you a harsher punishment regardless since they can’t go below 3 years.
But hey, at least they took away the RM5,000 fine, so that’s cool right? 😕
3. Criticizing the gomen and the justice system is NO LONGER SEDITIOUS
Woot! Woot! Yup, one of the more positive amendments to the Sedition Act is that criticizing the government and the justice system is no longer seditious! So this means we can freely speak up whenever we aren’t happy with how the country is being run or if we think that the justice system isn’t fair, right?
Well, maybe not.
Some reports have pointed out that this might be a very clever illusion to make the act seem more acceptable while not actually changing anything. Y’see, with the criticism of the court, they might not be able to detain you under the Sedition Act, but they can use other existing laws such as those in the Penal Code to get you.
This is about the same with criticizing the government. Most criticisms aren’t standalone – meaning that they are usually mentioned in connection to some other topic, which these days usually also involves religion or race. Due to the openness to interpretation of the Sedition Act, this means that if you were to criticize the government based on (for example) racial discrimination, you might still kena sedition for creating racial unrest (for example).
In fact, the wording of the Sedition Act is so loose that Home Minister Zahid Hamidi was unable to give specific examples of what was seditious when discussing the amendments, only saying that it was “up to the interpretation and definition of the court”.
4. East Malaysians might wanna be extra careful
… for Secession! Which is a super-atas word for “leaving and becoming independent”, something people in Sabah and Sarawak have talked about, and been arrested for, for years. In the original draft for the New Improved Sedition act, there was this line as a specific example of a Seditious Act.
“A excites a person or a group of persons to demand for the secession of State B from Malaysia. Such act is seditious.” – Amendments list, p.2, Section 3(a).
While it doesn’t specifically mention Sabah and Sarawak, it’s believed to be a reaction to the recent focus on calls from certain parties that Sabah and Sarawak secede from Malaysia, which saw four people being charged with sedition over their involvement with a group called Sabah dan Sarawak Keluar Malaysia and the attempts by police to arrest the founder of the group, a London-based activist known as “Doris Jones”.
To clarify though, demanding for secession has always been against the law, it’s just that it was explicitly mentioned. The example was eventually removed in the final version of the law, thanks to indirect opposition to it by some East Malaysian politicians such as Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan and (OMG) Bung Mokhtar.
“Everybody has the right to comment; we have our right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.” – The Bung, Malaysian Insider
The Bung, as we affectionately call him, has always been one of UMNO’s most unpredictable MPs. And sure enough, he asked for the new Act amendments to be withdrawn in order to have more time for discussion.
5. They’ll take your passport, and they were this close to denying you bail
Under the Sedition Law, during the investigation process, you’ll be able to post bail (giving property or money to the court as a guarantee you won’t run away) and live life as normal – except having to show up at court or the police station.
The ability to post bail almost got taken away as the amendment made it possible that you would be denied bail for “serious” acts of sedition, and have your passport confiscated for “normal” seditious acts. This means that you would have to spend the entire trial period in jail (Do not pass go, do not collect SweetieBun), which may take months or years. The denial of bail is usually reserved for serious crimes, so this is essentially putting you on the same danger level as murder suspects.
Thankfully, this amendment didn’t make it through, so you’ll still be able to post bail. The tradeoff (we suppose) is that you can no longer travel out of the country as you now have to surrender your passport to the authorities.
If you’re wondering what we meant by “serious” acts of sedition, well…..
6. When someone’s stuff gets broken, you’re in really SERIOUS trouble
As we mentioned, the prison sentence for sedition is now 3-7 years. If you think that’s bad, you might run off screaming and flailing your arms in terror when you read this:
If your seditious act happens to cause bodily injury and/or damage to property, you’re looking at a THREE to TWENTY YEAR prison sentence if found guilty!
But the here’s the problem, as mentioned by Eric: How do you determine the connection between the seditious act and the damage? Cause even Eric said that this part of the law was “very weird and confusing”.
Johnny makes a seditious statement on Twitter and pisses off a bunch of people. One of them decides to punch Johnny in the face but uh-oh, he hit the wrong person! This starts a fight and at the end of it, some cars get damaged as well.
Is Johnny responsible for causing the injuries and damage to property? If not, who should be responsible?
If you’re having trouble answering this, so does Eric and some other lawyers. To some people, the vagueness of this addition is a sign that the government might be planning to use it to target political activities in the future. Eric suggests that they might actually be referring to a person purposefully asking or inciting people to do the damage – like maybe starting a riot. But either way, everyone agrees that this particular amendment needs to be made clearer; like if they gave examples such as the (now removed) secession one.
Did you know about these changes to the Sedition Act?
No, really. Did you?
When we did a quick check, we found that not many knew about these changes to the Sedition Act, or even much about the Sedition Act itself. We find this to be quite worry, especially in consideration of the sharing of seditious materials.
Many of us might think that the Sedition Act doesn’t concern us, since we aren’t politicians, activists, or sex bloggers. But how many of us have shared articles about Malaysian politics, religion, and race? That share button may now be the second last thing you click on – the last thing being the “delete” button before you’re banned from even touching a smartphone or laptop.
Sure, you might say that there’s no absolute freedom of speech or that people who stir up tension by posting incendiary statements or articles deserve to kena sedition, but when do we start drawing the line between No Absolute Freedom to Absolutely No Freedom?
More importantly, this new Bill (in addition to 12 others this week!) was brought out totally by surprise, and without any seeming public pressure to do so. Once again, our beloved UMNO MP spoke up about this fact as well.
“That is not good. That is why we must see the content of the amendments carefully and people should be allowed to voice their opinion,” – The Bung, as quoted in The Malaysian Insider
Then again, we kinda understand if you’re slightly afraid to voice your opinions now. You might want to just do what Eric Paulsen says and just post up cute cat pictures. If you’re not gonna share this article, at the least you can start by sharing our article on cat-based peribahasa.