Passed during colonial rule three years after the British re-imposition from Japan, Malaysia’s Sedition Act of 1948 still remains the law of the land despite calls from the public and promises from public officials to repeal it eventually.
The colonial era relic has been used to selectively incriminate political opponents, cartoonists, journalists, and professors whose speech has been deemed dangerous to the general peace and safety of the public. In 2012, then-Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak told the BBC that his government would move to repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with a modernized version with a narrower scope.
Eight years later and three different government administrations later and the act is still in place.
Worryingly, the law’s application has seen its prosecution venture online—most notably with the arrest of Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque—better known as Zunar. Between 2015 and 2016, Zunar faced up to 43 years in prison for a set of tweets posted on Twitter. Though the charges were later dropped by the Pakatan Harapan government in 2018, the law is still on the books—a warning to others inclined to test the government’s application.
Notable victims of the law include Democratic Action Party (DAP) Secretary-General and Minister of Finance (2018-2020) Lim Guan Eng and former MP and opposition politician Karpal Singh during his defense of Anwar Ibrahim in during his notorious sodomy case.
Lim was jailed for criticizing the government’s failure to bring rape charges against the Chief Minister of Malacca in 1994 and imprisoned for a year in 1998. Defending Anwar, Singh was charged for asserting that “people in high places” could be plotting to bring harm to Anwar.