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After Azmi, drop other sedition charges too, gov't told

(Updated )
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The government has again received calls to end its sedition charges on government critics, after the attorney-general announced that the case against Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom has been dropped.

"We hope that the charges against other activists would also be reviewed and discontinued.

"We call for the abolition of the Sedition Act," said the group of eminent Malays, G25, in a statement today.

The group said the "archaic" colonial era Act has "outlived its usefulness" and ought to be replaced as it is unconstitutional.

"The Sedition Act should be replaced by a law which promotes national harmony and democratic ideals.

"What we need is a specific law against the incitement of racial, gender, and religious hatred.

"As for criticism of the government, it is the right of citizens in a democracy," said the group.

Their call comes after cartoonist Zunar, who himself is facing nine charges under the controversial Act, criticised the decision as simply “ too little and too political ”.

G25 also called for the review of the restrictions under the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to foster academic freedom as well as administrative autonomy in the universities.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had promised to abolish the highly criticised Sedition Act before the 13th general elections, but made a U-turn and fortified it in 2014 after mounting pressure from within Umno ranks.

As of last March, Political Studies for Change (KPRU) think tank said at least 120 have been detained or probed for sedition and other similarly oppressive laws.

Why charge in first place?

Meanwhile DAP Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang also called on the government to drop all sedition charges against its critics, saying those were unwarranted, citing as examples the charge against Azmi and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok.

"(Dropping the charges) is not adequate, as both Kok and Azmi should not have been charged in the first place.

"I fully agree with Azmi that Malaysians are relieved that common sense had prevailed, but this must apply not only in the two cases of Azmi and Teresa, but also in all the other cases where the Sedition Act has been used to stifle legitimate dissent and criticism.

"For this reason, I call on attorney-general (AG) Mohamed Apandi Ali to drop all charges under the Sedition Act against opposition MPs, civil society activists, lawyers, and cartoonists, including Zunar," said Lim in his speech in Labis yesterday.

Lim also slammed Apandi's suggestion to increase penalties under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), arguing that it went against the government's efforts to combat corruption and would "undermine and even paralyse anti-corruption efforts".

"The AG's Chambers should not take a single step forward to draft proposals to increase criminal penalties under the OSA to punish and deter whistleblowers and journalists from publishing information to combat corruption, unless the AG is specifically directed, sanctioned, or authorised by the cabinet to do so," said Lim.

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