Sedition Act U-turn a major step backwards

Two years ago, Malaysians were told that a raft of laws would be repealed, amended or reviewed. Emergency proclamations would be finally lifted. This was good news in the run-up to the 2013 general election.

Dec 04, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
Two years ago, Malaysians were told that a raft of laws would be repealed, amended or reviewed. Emergency proclamations would be finally lifted. This was good news in the run-up to the 2013 general election.

Many sighed in relief. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from the national psyche. It seemed like evidence that the country was on the verge of entering into a new era of openness and enlightened leadership.

But two years on, now that the 2013 election has long been done and dusted, we are seeing a U-turn, with the decision to retain and even strengthen the Sedition Act, a colonial era law. If relief was the widespread sentiment in 2012, this time the air of gloom weighs heavy.

In recent months, the Sedition Act has been used agaist a host of opposition politicians and critics. Even cartoonist Zunar has not been spared an investigation under the Sedition Act. But it was not used against those who suggested that Bibles should be burnt or made other provocative or alarming remarks.

Politicians are elected on the basis of public trust that they will do their best to represent the interests of the voters who elect them.

But once in power, a host of other competing interests can vye for their attention: business considerations, party interests, international power politics, the temptation to enrich themselves, often at the public’s expense — and related to that foolish business ventures, investment schemes and deals that skim off public funds and enrich cronies. .

Sometimes there are more selfish considerations at work: the fear of losing power, followed by attempts at preservation of power.

Of course, it is not always easy to manage a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural nation. It calls for real leadership, even statesmenship, fair administration and moral authoritiy.

But in recent years, we have seen various forces and trends: the emergence of a large religious bureacracy asserting itself, accompanied by the shrill voices of right wing ethnonationalist groups which have been given disproportionate prominence in some online media.

This appeal to ethno-religious sentiment comes at a time of rising federal government and household debts, persistent questions about how government-linked entities like 1MDB are managed, and the rising cost of living. What’s more, the Goods and Services Tax will soon be introduced and this could hit the pockets of more Malaysians.

But positive signs are also evident. A new generation of Malaysians are waking up to the realities around them — aided by the emergence of a new middle-class and the widening spread of the internet. Many of them, imbued with youthful idealism, have identified with more issue-oriented causes by supporting groups like Bersih, Himpunan Hijau and Negaru-Ku.

If we believe that the Holy Spirit will teach all people all things, we should not confine ourselves to thinking of the workings of the Spirit as confined to solely “religious” issues. Rather, we may see the Spirit working in all things, moving and enlightening humanity towards the cause of truth and the Way of righteousness and justice.

It is this Spirit which, in 1948, after the devastation of two world wars, inspired the United Nations to come up with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later, its twin Covenants of Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with a host of other covenants and treaties. Many of these have not yet been ratified by Malaysia.

It is this new era of spreading enlightenment and awareness that is enabling more and more people to see through unscrupulous attempts to manipulate the primodial sentiments of race and religion.

Coming back to ‘sedition’: Jesus himself was hauled up because he was deemed to have uttered words or promoted a cause that went against the vested interests of his day. But, as we are all aware, he was vindicated in the end. No attempt to suppress the divine cause of Truth, Justice, Compassion and Englightment can succeed in the long run.

We can draw heart from that.

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