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UN rights office praises Malaysia repeal of sedition act

A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Friday praised [statement; press release] an announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak [official website] of plans to repeal the country's 1948 Sedition Act [text, PDF]. Razak announced Wednesday that the Sedition Act will be replaced with the more liberal National Harmony Act, which he said will ensure the protection of the right to freedom of speech while balancing national unity and preventing discrimination. In her statement, Ravina Shamdasani said that the UN was pleased with the government's plans, and encouraged lawmakers to ensure the new law initiated real reform:

We call on the Government to ensure the consistency of the proposed new law, the National Harmony Act, with international human rights standards. There have been concerns in the past about the way in which some reforms have been rapidly processed, without much public consultation. We call on the Government to use this opportunity to conduct a genuine and meaningful consultation with relevant national institutions, including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and civil society, to ensure that the new legislation is indeed in full compliance with international law and norms. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also stands ready to assist in this process.
The sedition act that was in place since colonial times has been constantly criticized for infringing free expression, but some opponents claim that the new law will not improve matters. Razak stated that the new law is more specific in language and nature, regulating only that speech related to sensitive areas having the potential to endanger national solidarity.

Malaysia has taken measures to repeal and replace old colonial laws with new ones. In April, the lower chamber of the Malaysian Parliament [official website, in Malay] passed a law [JURIST report] that will replace the Internal Security Act of 1960 (ISA) [text, PDF; HRW backgrounder] that allows indefinite detention of terror suspects, dissidents and political opponents. A day earlier, the prime minister had pledged to review the ISA after the country's parliament announced [JURIST reports] that it was considering repealing and replacing the controversial law. The new act, the Security Offenses Act, requires detainees to be released or brought to court within 28 days in custody thereby significantly limiting the time period terror suspects have to serve in custody. Razak originally announced [JURIST report] that the government would repeal the ISA and the Banishment Act of 1959 [text] in September and initiated [JURIST report] the plan in October.

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