Malaysian authorities using Sedition Act to stem criticism, opposition says

Malaysian authorities using Sedition Act to stem criticism, opposition says

Malaysian authorities using Sedition Act to stem criticism, opposition says

Updated 9 January 2016, 3:20 AEDT

Opposition groups in Malaysia say authorities are using a colonial-era law to silence critics and suppress voices against the government.

Opposition groups in Malaysia say authorities are using the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law, to silence critics and suppress opposition voices.

Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ul-Haque, popularly known as Zunar, was charged multiple times under the Act.

"I've been charged with nine Sedition charges and the maximum penalty for that is 43 years in prison," he told the ABC.

The charges were linked to a series of tweets from Zunar criticising the judiciary and government after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for sodomy earlier this year.

The Sedition Act, which prime minister Najib Razak once vowed to repeal, was first imposed by the British in 1948 to stop opposition to colonial rule.

But since a 2013 election setback, Mr Najib reversed his position late last year, saying the act would be retained.

Earlier this year, Malaysia's parliament approved tougher penalties under the Sedition Act.

Eric Paulsen, Zunar's lawyer, said an increasing number of arrests were being made under the Sedition Act.

"There are now 20 to 30 cases in courts of people charged — from lawyers, politicians, dissidents, of course Zunar," he said.

"There are many other people who have been arrested for Sedition and not charged."

Authorities said the Sedition Act was needed in modern Malaysia to ensure free speech was not used to incite violence or hatred between the different communities in the Muslim-majority nation.

But Mr Paulsen said it was "absurd" as Malaysia has been peaceful for many years and Sedition had not been used for a long time.

"It is only recently since the government came under pressure, and lost support in the last two general elections (that it is being used)," he said.

Zunar said the charges against him were politically motivated.

The cartoonist, well known for his hard hitting style, often targeted public figures such as Mr Najib and issues such as corruption in the government.

In the past, authorities raided Zunar's office and put so much pressure on publishers and book stores that his works were virtually illegal in Malaysia.

"This sedition is a weapon, a weapon the government uses on those who the government is not happy with," he said.

Opposition member of parliament Tian Chua was charged with Sedition for comments he made about the last election and the detention of Anwar Ibrahim.

"It is, in a way, government reactions to punish people who have dissenting voices in the country," he told the ABC during an interview in Malaysia's parliament house.

Zunar and Mr Paulsen said the Sedition Act also served as a scare tactic.

"In my case they put me in lock-up for three days," Zunar said.

"The police came at night. Why do they have to come at night? About ten of them. They came and arrested me; put me in lock up for three days and then they charged me.

"There have been cases where a group of policemen in Balaclavas and hoods come with machine guns at 2am in the morning," Mr Paulsen said.

"They decided to arrest me with 15 to 20 policemen, when I am a lawyer and deal with the police all the time.

"In fact we'd already agreed to meet, then they decided as a show of force to arrest me at night so they could keep me in lock-up."

Opposition MP Tian Chua wants the region to pay more attention to the clamping down of dissent in Malaysia.

"We want our neighbour and friends, whether from Australia of ASEAN countries, to voice out their concerns when it comes to Malaysia," he said.

"It cannot be business as usual ... and not taking any responsibility of human rights in Malaysia."

Zunar said he wants to use his court case to expose corruption and abuse of power. He also vowed to keep drawing political cartoons.

"I don't want to say I am not afraid, of course we all have fear ... but you need to overcome the fear. I don't want to practice self-censorship," he said.

Topics: