LETTER | In our multi-faceted plural society of diverse ethnic groups and religious composition, the task of maintaining harmony and peaceful co-existence demands constant rigour and commitment. Malaysian society's experience and appreciation to protect social harmony and peaceful co-existence have, however, been based largely on the strength and rigour of political and spiritual institutions maintaining regulations and the enforcement of law and order on its subjects. It has led to an unhealthy and sometimes overzealous dependence on laws and punishments to detect and deter infringements that are deemed to destabilise the social order.
This has brought unintended consequences of abuse of laws and politically- motivated prosecution as well as the weakening of our social institutions that hold society together to a fragile state. We forgot the best defence for a stable and peaceful society is forged through consensus and the accepted norms of that society. Hurtful and even hateful speeches are best combated with robust criticisms and sanctions emerging from within free civic-minded public discourse. Controversial views cannot be made to go away or disappear with suppression. It will instead be driven underground to build up more discontent and bitterness that in the end will only fuel greater socio-political divides and resentments against institutions and even the government.
With this in mind, we in Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad that the government has decided to repeal the Sedition Act 1948 (Sedition Act). While welcoming the government’s intention to repeal the Sedition Act, we, however, remain optimistically cautious that the government intends to replace the Sedition Act with a new law.
This caution is not unfounded given that the new law could well be a disguise akin to the old proverbial saying of “old wine in a new bottle”. In a Malaysia whose democratic traditions and practices are constantly evolving, it is essential for the government to show forth its commitment to build a mature democracy that values the social space so necessary to enhance consensus-building and acceptable societal norms.
Freedom for all people to express their thoughts, conscience and opinions are vital if Malaysian society is to experience greater social cohesion and harmony with one another. The government must not act in ways that stifle the practice of free speech and expression no matter how unpalatable a speech may be provided it does not bring physical harm or incite violence and hatred and is as prescribed by law and in accordance with international norms and standards.
The unfortunate conviction and sentencing of Wan Ji Wan Husin are rather discomforting. His conviction and sentence appear to reinforce the conventional experience in Malaysian society that social harmony is best protected through strict enforcement of laws and the imposition of higher penalties. But Wan Ji’s conviction and increased penalty have only sparked dissatisfaction and dissension.
This is all the more when Wan Ji is convicted under an act of Parliament now confirmed to be repealed soon. If an act of Parliament deserves to be repealed, common decency should dictate the act should have never been used in the first place. A moratorium on all cases under the Sedition Act should have been granted. Sadly, in the case of Wan Ji, this did not happen. Justice has clearly not been served, neither has it been seen to be done.
To, therefore, allow justice to serve its course and correct that which is wrong, GBM would urge the government and in particular, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to move and take all necessary measures so that the High Court’s decision which upheld the conviction with an increased sentence can be set aside by a higher court.
We also welcome the stay of execution of the jail sentence which was granted by the High Court today. The decision is a first towards justice for Wan Ji.
Let Wan Ji be the last victim of this unjust and oppressive act. May Malaysians never have to fear expressing their opinions because of oppressive laws that seek to silence dissenting opinions from the powers and authorities, whoever they may be. A just and peaceful society will follow when freedom and the rights of all people are well-respected and upheld.
The writer is chair, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM). The above is on behalf of the following GBM member organisations:
1. All Women's Action Society (Awam)
2. Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia (BMSM)
4. Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
5. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
6. Merdeka University Berhad
7. Monsoons Malaysia
8. Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF)
9. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
10. Persatuan Penduduk Petaling Jaya (MyPJ)
11. Pusat Komas
12. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
13. Tamil Foundation
14. Tindak Malaysia
15. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (Ucsaam)
16. University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.