Laws protecting monarchy from insults 'not the way', says rights group

Modified 11 Jan 2019, 7:10 am

The planned laws criminalising criticisms of the monarchy would not bring respect towards Malaysia's record on human rights, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson (photo above) said the new, heavier legislation being formulated by the Pakatan Harapan government would violate international standards for freedom of expression.

It would also contravene Malaysia's own Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, he said.

“Malaysia’s government is not only delaying revoking abusive laws, but is even considering enacting new laws that curtail human rights.

"The proposed law(s) on the monarchy would add to the laws already restricting free expression in Malaysia.

"[...] (It) is not the way to make Malaysia’s human rights record respected by the world,” he said in a statement today.

His statement comes in the wake of the arrests of three individuals under the Sedition Act 1948 over social media posts which allegedly insulted Kelantan Sultan Muhammad V and his recent resignation as Agong.

Not greater immunity for monarchy

Following this, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong announced that the government was enacting new laws to protect the monarchy from insults and attacks.

The de facto law minister said some existing laws would also be amended for this purpose.

He added that the government was looking at heavier punishment, as the current penalties for certain offences against the monarchy “were on the low side”.

"Ours is a constitutional monarchy. So, the government must always ensure that our rulers are protected from unfounded slander and attacks by irresponsible people," he said yesterday.

He later clarified that the laws were not aimed at according the royal institution greater immunity.

Instead, they are meant to define existing laws more clearly.

Meanwhile, the use of the Sedition Act in the arrest of the three individuals has received rebuke from many, including Harapan politicians.

This includes Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah who urged the government to abide by the reforms it promised prior to winning the 14th general election last May.

"What could have been done is for the authorities to define what constitutes hate speech, seditious remarks, and insults to royalty; it is only with clarity can actions be more just.

"When enacting or amending any laws, deference must be made to protect the fundamental principles of freedom of expression, thoughts and ideas as enshrined in our Federal Constitution," she said in a statement last night.

The former Bersih chairperson said the monarchy would continue to have the full support of all Malaysians and "its position and privilege are already guaranteed under the law".

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad stated that the government will be defining what constitutes insults, to serve as a guide for law enforcement agencies.

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