Wan Ji’s enhanced sentence shows Sedition Act must go

CIJ et al


LETTER | We, the undersigned civil society organisations, are deeply alarmed at the one-year jail sentence that was extended against Wan Ji Wan Hussin today. In 2014, Wan Ji was charged under Section 4(1)(c)of the Sedition Act over his Facebook posting about the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah. He was initially sentenced to nine months jail by the Sessions Court in April 2018. However, this was enhanced to one year by the Shah Alam High Court today when it denied Wan Ji’s appeal against his conviction and sentence.

We are deeply concerned by the court verdict and the fact that the Attorney- General’s Chambers did not concede to Wan Ji’s appeal in the High Court and, in fact, appears to have cross-appealed against the Sessions Court’s nine months sentence and asked for a heavier sentence. This goes against the promise made by the attorney-general that there would not be any more selective prosecutions in "New Malaysia".

The continued use and existence of the Sedition Act to restrict freedom of expression violates the right to freedom of expression under international human rights law. This also casts further doubts on the Pakatan Harapan government's reform credentials and calls into question the government's sincerity toward a more democratic Malaysia.

Any restriction on freedom of expression must be provided by law and be for a legitimate aim and necessary and proportionate. The criminalisation of insults, per se, whether of royalty or any government leader, without any accompanying threat to national security, public order or public morality, cannot constitute a legitimate restriction on the freedom of expression. Any jail term in such an instance would be disproportionate and a term of one year is completely unjustifiable.

It is a fundamental democratic principle that government and public officials should be subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Any prohibitions protecting heads of states and public officials, purely on account of their status, from insult or scrutiny runs contrary to that democratic principle. 

If anything, heads of state and public officials should tolerate more criticism, and not less, than ordinary citizens. This principle is especially important when it comes to unelected heads of state, including monarchs and members of royal families, who cannot otherwise be held accountable by citizens.

We call upon the government to;

1. Concede to Wan Ji Wan Hussin’s appeal on his conviction and sentence;

2. Re-impose the moratorium on the Sedition Act and other repressive laws;

3. Initiate a comprehensive programme of legislative reform aimed at bringing all laws into compliance with international laws and standards;

4. Abolish the Sedition Act 1948 in its entirety.

The above is endorsed by:

1. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
2. Beyond Borders
3. Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity (Maju)
4. Malaysia Muda
5. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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