Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said today that he is delighted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's commitment to the rule of law, but disagreed with his belief that legitimate complaints against wrongdoings would not be considered seditious.
Ramkarpal, who is a lawyer, said that the Sedition Act 1948 does not take into account intent or the truth of a statement.
"I have to respectfully disagree with the prime minister's view in his article that certain legitimate complaints will not be deemed seditious and will be regarded as free speech, and that citizens can openly speak about these issues.
"The law of sedition is peculiar in that statements and criticism with seditious tendencies are deemed seditious irrespective of the intention of the critic.
"In other words, a critic may honestly feel that he is justified in criticising or speaking freely on an issue... but such criticism will still be deemed seditious if it carries with it certain seditious tendencies," he said in a statement today.
Ramkarpal was referring to Mahathir's commentary from earlier today, in which he said the law must apply to all – from rulers and ministers to civil servants and ordinary citizens.
The prime minister lamented that there have been blatant breaches of the law in the "mistaken belief that immunity has somehow been accorded."
"The result is predictable. The citizens suffer from injustices. Business cannot be done properly. Property has been seized. Unusual and illegal actions have been perpetrated.
"This being so, public complaints against such actions are legitimate and do not breach any law. They will not be considered as sedition in any way. They will be regarded as free speech. Citizens can make reports on these matters or openly speak about them," he had said.
'Repeal the act'
As Ramkarpal contended, however, as long as the Sedition Act remains in force, there will always be a fear of speaking freely, particularly on sensitive issues where one may not even intend to commit sedition.
"No doubt, freedom of speech, or any other constitutionally guaranteed freedom, for that matter, is never absolute.
"However, as much latitude as possible must be given to citizens to express their views and criticism on matters, even if they are sensitive in nature, as constructive criticism is a necessary part of any democracy.
"I have always been of the view that the Sedition Act ought to be repealed," he stressed.
Ramkarpal said the Penal Code can be amended to protect the monarchy, while a Religious and Racial Hatred Act can be introduced to deal with racial hatred.
"In the circumstances, it is hoped the government seriously considers abolishing the Sedition Act in line with its promise to abolish such draconian laws in its election manifesto.
"By doing so, the ordinary citizen will no longer fear speaking his mind honestly which is what, I believe, the prime minister is encouraging in his said article."