The use of the Sedition Act to arrest blogger Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris despite the cabinet's moratorium on the law is "a step backwards", the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said today.
"It is with concern that CIJ notes that despite the announced moratorium on the Sedition Act, it has been used to detain Wan Muhammad Azri.
"We believe the cabinet's suspension of the moratorium is a step backwards, giving the impression that there is a continuing need for this colonial piece of legislation," CIJ director Sonia Randhawa said in a statement today.
Wan Muhammad Azri, who is better known by the moniker 'Papagomo', was arrested on Nov 29 following an allegedly inflammatory video posted on his Facebook page.
Selangor chief police Mazlan Mansor later said the blogger would be investigated under the Sedition Act.
The situation is tense in Malaysia right now, said Sonia, and extra vigilance is needed to ensure peace is maintained.
It is at times like these when it is more important than ever for police action to be disassociated from political action, Sonia said.
"Given that the cabinet had declared a moratorium on prosecution, and that the government has committed to repeal the Sedition Act, this investigation is particularly worrying," she added.
'Table a Media Freedom Act'
CIJ urged the government to repeal the Sedition Act and to table a Media Freedom Act, which would include the use of clear exemptions to the right, what it means to do harm to those exemptions and when those exemptions themselves might not apply due to a larger public interest.
This would be better than the broad definitions of the Sedition Act, she said, which encompasses many everyday acts, words and publications.
Sonia said that while Section 298A of the Penal Code is an improvement over the Sedition Act as it has a tighter definition of what constitutes a crime, it is also important to clearly delineate how freedom of expression, as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution, can be made a reality.
"Freedom of speech and expression cannot be underestimated in the prevention of widespread racial violence.
"To ensure the ongoing stability and peace of our nation, we need to inculcate a culture of debate and discussion, starting immediately," she said.
The Facebook page, which is believed to belong to Wan Muhammad Azri, featured a live video recorded last Wednesday focusing on the topic 'Ini Tanah Melayu' (This is the land of the Malays).
This came after the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple riot in Subang Jaya, which occurred early last week.
The cabinet had previously suspended the use of the Sedition Act, pending plans to repeal it, but Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said yesterday that an exemption has been granted in the case of the temple riot.