More than four-hundred University Malaya law students exhorted the government to replace the Sedition Act 1948 with an act that has more specific legislation to suit current times.
The students who participated in the “hartal” (strike) yesterday demanded academic freedom when their law professor Dr Azmi Sharom was charged under the Sedition Act for a statement he made on the 2009 Perak crisis.
They believe that the charge was unfair and should be dropped.
Co-organiser of the peaceful solidarity march, Dr Lee Hwok Aun, told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that a far more reasonable and democratic law should be introduced as the stipulated Sedition Act’s outlook is too broad.
“I am not saying that there should be no law to curb hate speeches but it has to be specific. It is the job of the lawmakers in the Parliament. Get in touch with human rights group or other relevant bodies to find a solution.
“The problem now is that the Sedition Act is too broad where anyone can be charged for just criticising the government, which is totally undemocratic.
“It is an old colonial relic tainted by history and it should no longer be used,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old student Kavita Gopalan said the Act is no longer relevant in a modern society before echoing Dr Lee’s sentiment that a new definitive law has to be put in place soon.
The second-year law student then added that there is no chance for Malaysia to develop into a modern nation if it continues to value laws that belonged to an old era.
“The federal government should come up with a more specific law to curb hate speeches, which can ensure harmony but not to be used to instill fear among the people.
“It is wrong for the government to charge Azmi because what he said was under his capacity as a lecturer and a law teacher,” Kavita said.
Another student who only wished to be known as Nabil criticised Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak for failing to keep his promises, which he made before the last general election (GE), when the latter had guaranteed to repeal the Sedition Act.
Nabil said a modern state government would not stop its citizen from criticising them and claimed it is not wrong for someone to openly criticised its ruler.
“Before the GE, our prime minister had pledged to repeal the Act and where is that promise now?
“I do not think that it is wrong for us to disagree with our government, we can’t just say yes to everything and moreover this act is against our principle as a moderate state which we claim to be.”
Chairman of the University Malaya Students Association Safwan Shamsuddin told TMR that his group will continue to fight for the abolition of the Act and announced that his group has received full support from various student organisations.
“The government has no choice but to abolish the Act and we will not stop here. We are going to plan more campaign to educate the public on this matter,” he said.
Azmi, who pleaded not guilty at the KL Sessions Court last Tuesday, is a columnist for several English daily. He claimed trial after being charged under Section 4(1)(b) and Section 4(1)(c) of the Act.
He is facing a jail term of up to five years or a fine not more than RM5,000 if found guilty.