ICC Note: This article indicates that under Malaysia’s Sedition Act, the criminalization of certain speech and expression, including religious expression, has increased under current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib. There appears to be little or no toleration of criticism of the Malaysian government, including its religious affairs officials.
By Abby Seiff, Phnomh Penh
10/27/2015 Malaysia (UCANews.com)
The Malaysian government in recent years has undertaken a systemic campaign to criminalize free expression — including religious expression — as a means of silencing critics, a rights group report reveals.
The 147-page report by New York-based Human Rights Watch details how freedom of expression has been particularly attacked in the wake of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s election in 2013 — in which the incumbent secured a parliamentary majority but lost the popular vote.
Since then, the government has actively pursued critics through legal channels, arresting and charging people for peaceful protests, blocking websites, sentencing opposition leaders and academics on spurious charges and wielding the blunt tool of the Sedition Act against many who dared fight back. Media, civil society, opposition politicians, and social media have all been targeted, notes the report.
Several of the cases have involved religion. Early this year, the controversial Sedition Act was amended to criminalize religious criticism. Even before then, however, “comments on the government’s handling of religious issues have also resulted in arrests and sedition charges.”
In August 2014, Member of Parliament Khalid Samad was charged with sedition “after he called for review of the powers of the Selangor State Islamic Religious Council after it failed to abide by the attorney general’s decision that Iban and Malay-language Bibles seized from the Bible Society of Malaysia should be returned.”
This year, a prominent rights lawyer named Eric Paulsen was arrested twice and charged with sedition when he tweeted that sermons from the government’s Malaysian Islamic Development Department promoted extremism. Rafizi Ramli, secretary general of the People’s Justice Party, faces multiple charges after bringing attention to mounting anti-Christian protests suggesting they had been organized by the ruling United Malays National Organisation.