By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 — A new law to replace the controversial Sedition Act will be tabled in Parliament next year and will provide for criticism against the government, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz told a Chinese-language daily in an interview published today.
In July, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said that a National Harmony Act will replace the 64-year-old law.
Opposition lawmakers and civil society groups have long accused the government of using the Sedition Act arbitrarily to limit dissent.
Nazri (picture) said the National Harmony Act will keep the main elements of the Sedition Act, but will have the additional element of allowing for criticism of the government.
The de facto law minister traced the Sedition Act’s history, pointing out that the pre-independence law was drafted by the British who had feared that criticism would affect their reign.
“Sedition Act was enacted by the British colony government in 1948, because it is not a democratic government, (they were) afraid that people will criticise and affect their rule.”
“But, BN is a democratic government, the people should have the right to criticise the government, criticising the government is a normal thing, (it) can help...ensure government does not simply draft policies,” he told Sin Chew Daily.
The prime minister had called for the repeal of the Sedition Act to ensure the people’s right to freedom of speech as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, Nazri told Sin Chew.
But he said there should not be absolute freedom of speech in a multiracial country, saying that sensitive issues involving the different races and the royal institution should not be raised.
“We will continue to monitor any speech with seditious elements” to prevent the feelings of other races being hurt, Nazri said, adding that these includes racial slurs against the Chinese or Indian races.
He also said the Attorney-General’s Chambers is currently getting feedback from various parties including the Bar Council and the Cabinet’s interfaith panel.
Ahead of the elections, Najib’s administration had this year carried out a raft of legislative reforms, including the abolishment of the controversial Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), the lifting of three Emergency Declarations and introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act to regulate public gatherings.
The government had also scrapped the need for annual printing licences in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and lifted the ban on student participation in politics through amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971.
But critics have said that the pace of reforms are too slow and lack fundamental changes.
Najib had last month said the democratic reforms proved the government’s sincerity, but added that “building a just and equitable Malaysia cannot be achieved overnight.”
“We have embarked not on one step but many steps,” he said in a speech at the 2012 International Malaysia Law Conference, adding that: “The reforms will be irreversible; that, I promise you.”