Brave New World (The Star)
15 May 2008
"The Sedition Act is very open-ended and perhaps it should be done away with. Just what sedition is appears to be in the eye of the beholder."
Sedition! What does it mean? The word has been floating around for the past couple of weeks.
Raja Petra the (in) famous blogger of Malaysia Today is being charged with sedition and Karpal Singh the (in)famous MP is being threatened with the charge of sedition.
Raja Petra’s charge is based on an article he wrote about the Altantuya murder and Karpal was supposedly being seditious when he questioned the limits of the Sultan of Perak’s constitutional powers.
But were they being seditious? According to the dictionary definition of sedition, it means words or actions that cause people to rebel against their leaders.
It’s awfully vague, isn’t it? What does “rebel” mean, for instance? Well, looking back into my trusty dictionary, I find that it means to stop giving allegiance to an established government.
Gasp! By that definition, voting against the Government makes you a rebel. Being an Opposition member makes you a rebel. Criticising the Government makes you a rebel.
But wait. Reading on, there is the implication that rebellion means armed struggle. Phew! For a moment there, I thought we were living in a country where close to 50% of the electorate are awful rebels.
However, let’s go back to Raja Petra and Karpal Singh. Their so-called sedition is not dependent on the definition of the Oxford Paperback Dictionary. Instead, we must look to the Sedition Act 1948 (revised in 1969).
Well, 1948. That’s a long time ago. We were not independent then. The Brits were in control. So what we have here is a Brit-made law used initially to control the teeming masses of Malaya from rebelling against the colonial masters.
Gosh. I would have thought such a horrid reminder of the nasty British and their bullying ways would have been done away with as soon as we gained independence.
I guess the Government feels that it still has its uses. Like defending the honour of royalty (as in the Karpal case) or putting them in jail (if Raja Petra, a member of the Selangor royal family, is convicted). Oh, the sweet irony.
Anyway, the Act gives a much more detailed definition than my dictionary. It’s not much clearer, mind you, just more detailed. Since I am lazy, I’ll just paraphrase the relevant parts of the act here.
(a) To make people hate or feel contempt or disaffection against any ruler or government;
(b) To excite people into changing any legally established matter other than by lawful means;
(c) To make people hate, feel contempt for or feel disaffection against the administration of justice in the country;
(d) To raise discontent or disaffection among the people of the country;
(e) To promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia; or
(f) To question the provisions in the Constitution regarding citizenship, Bahasa Malaysia as the national language, the special position of Malays and the sovereignty of the rulers.
However, your words and actions are not seditious if they were:
(a) Intended to show that a ruler has made a mistake;
(b) To constructively show that the government has made mistakes or is in some way defective in law-making and the administration of justice (with the exception of the listed matters in paragraph (f) above);
(c) To make changes in the country through lawful means (with the exception of the listed matters in paragraph (f) above) and to identify, with the intention of removing, any matter that will raise feeling of ill will between the various ethnic groups.
This is the law as it stands. It is not a verbatim reproduction of the Act because, believe me, if you think what I wrote is boring, the actual Act will drive you to tears.
Arguments will be made on both sides to determine if sedition has occurred, and if the case goes to court, then it is up to the wisdom of the judge to decide.
Meanwhile, since we are all intelligent citizens of a democratic country, I see no harm in examining the so-called seditious acts of these two fellows, and seeing if they fit into the definition provided for by this old colonial law.
While you are at it, you may want to see if anyone else has been uttering seditious words. It could be fun. For example, the next time someone questions your citizenship, you can always scream: “Sedition! Sedition!”
The law is very open-ended and perhaps it should be done away with. Just what sedition is appears to be in the eye of the beholder, and this is not a particularly ideal situation.
After all, one person’s sedition is another person’s practice of the democratic right of free speech.