[JURIST] The Parliament of Malaysia [official website, in Malay] on Friday announced a change to the country’s sedition law, which will strengthen government intervention upon seditious activity. Malaysia’s original sedition law [BBC backgrounder] banned acts and speech expressing contempt against the government or any of Malaysia’s royal sultans and called for violators to pay fines or face prison sentences up to three years in duration. Under the strengthened law, the government is permitted to block online content deemed seditious [Reuters report] as well as impose mandatory prison sentences lasting between three and seven years. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] criticized the tougher law [press release] before the parliamentary vote, stating “[i]t is very disappointing that the Malaysian Government is now proposing to make a bad law worse.” Suspects charged with sedition will now be prevented from leaving the country and the courts will be faced with the choice of whether to release suspects on bail.
Countries around the world have struggled to balance citizens’ internationally-recognized right to free speech with domestic and international security concerns. Last week a Malaysia political cartoonist was charged [JURIST report] with nine counts of sedition over tweets criticizing the country’s judiciary. In March Malaysian officials arrested [JURIST report] the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [BBC profile] for alleged acts of sedition. She was reportedly arrested and detained specifically for a speech she made criticizing the jailing of her father. Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction on sodomy charges was upheld [JURIST report] in February, as was his five-year prison sentence. Many critics in Malaysia and abroad have claimed the arrest is a politically driven act to fight the opposing potential threat of the People’s Justice party.