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Malaysia: Sedition Law to Be Repealed

(July 19, 2012) On July 12, 2012, Malaysia's government announced that it will repeal a law that has been on the books since the colonial era and been used to repress political dissent. (Kevin Drew, Malaysia Vows to Repeal Controversial Sedition Law, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (July 13, 2012).) The Sedition Act (Act 15, 1948, LAWS OF MALAYSIA (2006)) “represents a bygone era in our country,” according to a statement from Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak. (Drew, supra.) The plan is to replace it with new legislation, to be known as the National Harmony Act, that will aim to prevent people from inciting religious or ethnic hatred while preserving freedom of speech. (Id.)

The announcement was hailed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ravina Shamdasani of that office expressed the hope that the new law would be consistent with international human rights standards and that the process of its enactment would be open. She offered her office's assistance with the legislation and stated:

We call on the Government to use this opportunity to conduct a genuine and meaningful consultation with relevant national institutions, including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and civil society, to ensure that the new legislation is indeed in full compliance with international law and norms (UN Rights Office Hails Malaysia's Intention to Repeal Colonial-Era Sedition Act, UN NEWS CENTRE (July 13, 2012).)

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, reserved judgment on the announcement, noting that “[u]ntil the Malaysian people see the draft of the National Harmony Act and can make an informed comparison of the current and proposed future law, the jury will still be out, waiting to render a decision.” (Drew, supra.)