Revoke citizenship, impose RM100,000 fine on those found playing up 3R issues, expert suggests

Expert says the Sedition Act 1948 needed to be amended again to incorporate a combination of two important elements in punishment, namely prevention and education.

Mohd Faizul Haika Mat Khazi
Mohd Faizul Haika Mat Khazi
26 Mar 2024 01:00pm
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - The government is advised to amend the Sedition Act 1948 to ensure harsher penalties, including revoking citizenship and imposing a fine of RM100,000 on individuals found using issues of royalty, religion and race (3R) to incite dissatisfaction, anger and fuel racial strife among the people.

International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (Istac) Associate Professor Datuk Dr Wan Ahmad Fauzi Wan Husain said among the loopholes in the Act was that the existing penalties were lenient and failed to deter individuals, including politicians and the public, from playing up 3R sentiments.

Wan Ahmad Fauzi said another weakness was the absence of educational elements whereby under the current provisions, an individual found guilty of sedition by the court could face a minimum of three and a maximum of seven years' imprisonment under Section 4(1).

Therefore, he said the Act which was introduced in 1948 and amended after May 13, 1969 and in 2015, needed to be amended again to incorporate a combination of two important elements in punishment, namely prevention and education.

"I am of the view that several improvements needed to be included in the amendment to the legislation. Firstly, those found guilty could be subjected to punishment, either (a) undergoing counseling sessions provided by the government for a certain number of hours determined by the court.

"Alternatively, (b) being detained in rehabilitation centres with a national and moral focus for a period not less than two days, or a combination of (a) or (b) with imprisonment or a fine up to RM100,000, while for repeat offenders, consideration should be given to revoking their citizenship," he said told Sinar.

Among the political leaders and prominent individuals who have been investigated and charged under the Sedition Act were PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli, DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng, Pas president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, Kedah Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, activist Hishamuddin Rais, graphic artist Fahmi Reza, cartoonist Zunar and The Edge publisher Ho Kay Tat.

Wan Ahmad Fauzi said the government also needed to consider introducing special subjects at the primary level in both public and private schools to strengthen national unity and identity by emphasiing the understanding of the Rukun Negara and mastering the Malay language while nurturing love for the country.

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Therefore, he said, the Education Ministry, Higher Education Ministry and the Unity Ministry needed to act immediately to prevent the spread of doctrines opposing the 3R elements from increasing and potentially undermining the country's future as seen in other countries.

Drop the phrase "any government"

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia constitutional expert Associate Professor Dr Muhammad Fathi Yusof on the other hand, said there was no need to amend the Sedition Act as the existing provisions were sufficient to help authorities address issues related to 3R, including safeguarding the position of the Malay Rulers.

He said Section 3(a) of the Act also specified that it was an offence to incite feelings of dissatisfaction, hatred or contempt towards any Ruler or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the government.

"So I see here there are already enough elements to take action against those who insult the Malay Rulers, but I believe the phrase "any government" should be dropped from the Sedition Act because criticising the government cannot be considered sedition," he said.

Fathi said the most important thing for the government to do was to be honest and transparent in enforcing the Sedition Act, adding that there must be a strong foundation for investigating and prosecuting any individuals involved in such cases.

"If someone is only giving an advice and opinion to the Malay Rulers and the government, then it cannot be considered sedition. I also hope that the government does not misuse the Sedition Act or use it as a "weapon" to prosecute political enemies as experienced by the late DAP chairman Karpal Singh and Lim in 1995.

"We do not want the Madani government to be composed of former opposition leaders using the Sedition Act to selectively take legal action against political enemies and current opposition leaders," he said.

He said the Act should also be applied alongside other legal provisions, including Section 298, which encompasses offences such as hurting the sentiments of followers of other religions, acts of insult, inciting hatred, disrupting racial harmony and causing harm to the nation.

"I think the people hope that the government take effective and transparent enforcement steps according to the Sedition Act and not to misuse it for political interests.

"The people also hope that the government will use the Act to take action against academics who make statements based on detailed studies or scientific findings such as what happened to National Council of Professors Senior Fellow Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong, who expressed views regarding national-type schools (SJK).

"However, the statement was misconstrued as an incitement offence. In my view, this contradicts the principle of freedom of expression, particularly when considering its relevance to the pursuit of knowledge, as universities are inherently safeguarded by academic freedom," he said.

Fathi said he hoped that the government will grant full freedom to academics to speak up as long as their views were not seditious and did not affect harmony and unity among the races in the country.