Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has panned the recent use of the Sedition Act 1948 by police, deeming the arrests of several individuals over posts on the former Yang di-Pertuan Agong as tantamount to "mob rule".
LFL executive director Latheefa Koya said the arrests were reminiscent of "BN government-style intolerance" towards freedom of speech, especially as the use of the act had been heavily objected to by the Pakatan Harapan coalition prior to forming the government.
"[...] especially for allegedly 'insulting' comments on social media where the authorities seem quick to react to mobs on social media demanding actions be taken against certain posts.
"The authorities must be more discerning when reacting to viral messages on social media, especially if the alleged 'insulting' post has been exaggerated; to do so would be tantamount to mob rule.
"[...] It is therefore shocking that in Malaysia Baharu, this law is still being used by the police to crack down on mere social media comments that are not criminal in nature," she said in a statement today.
The LFL further said that the role of the police is to maintain public order and prevent crimes, "not to be the arbiter of what is an acceptable speech or post on social media."
Comments which were threatening or which incited violence or criminal action ought to instead be investigated under the Penal Code, it added.
Latheefa said: "We, therefore, call for the authorities to cease these needless arrests and investigations pertaining to mere social media comments.
"The authorities must be able to prioritise their resources to tackle genuine criminal matters, and not get involved in petty politically-motivated issues that should not be their concern."
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) called on the government to restore immediately the moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act to prevent further abuse.
According to the CIJ, comments that are insulting but are not a threat to national security, public order and race relations, should not warrant arrests under the Act.
"CIJ recalls that when the government lifted the moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo (photo) stated that its use would be reserved for issues involving national security, public order and race relations.
"[...] the recent arrests do not fall within the above categories as set out by the minister.
"These arrests demonstrate the problematic nature of lifting the moratorium on a broad-based law such as the Sedition Act.
"CIJ, therefore, calls on the government to reimpose the moratorium on the Sedition Act and to abolish the Sedition Act without delay to prevent any future abuse of this draconian colonial-era law," the CIJ said.
Inspector-general of police Muhamad Fuzi Harun said the arrests followed police reports lodged by members of the public against the trio.
“Members of the public are advised to use social media platforms judiciously and not make comments that are provocative or manipulate the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s resignation to the point of causing negative perceptions towards the royal institutions of the country," he had said.
Yesterday, two members of DAP Youth - lawyer Syahredzan Johan and Subang DAP Youth chief Farhan Haziq Mohamed - also criticised the use of the Sedition Act in the recent case.
The Harapan government had issued a moratorium on the use of the Sedition Act and several other laws, last October, pending the act's intended repeal.
The Sedition Act is one of several laws being reviewed by Putrajaya, including Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2016 (Sosma), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and other laws that were claimed to be open to abuse.
Repealing these laws was one of the election promises made by Harapan prior to winning the 14th general election last May.
However, the moratorium was lifted following the events of the Seafield temple riots in November, last year, which ultimately led to the death of a fire and rescue personnel.