In 1948, the Sedition Act was enacted by the British colonial government to combat the Communists. Amendments were made through an Emergency Ordinance 1971, not long after the riots of 1969, to criminalise any questioning on Part III (on citizenship), Article 152 (on national language), Article 153 (on the special positions of the Malays and the rights of other races) and Article 181 (the Rulers’ sovereignty) of the Federal Constitution.
The Act has a very wide definition of “sedition”, and places many limitations of freedom of expression, particularly regarding supposedly sensitive political issues. According to some media commentators this legal uncertainty very much favours the prosecutor. It also means that what is seditious is not just a legal but also a political issue. Under the Act, those who commit an offence can be fined up to 5,000 Ringgit (USD 1326) and / or imprisoned up to three years. A second offence carries a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.
A seditious tendency is then defined in section 3 as follows
to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government.
to seek alteration other than by lawful means of any matter by law established.
to bring hatred or contempt to the administration of justice in the country
to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects
to promote ill-will and hostility between races or classes
to question the provisions of the Constitution dealing with language, citizenship, the special privileges of the Malays and of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the sovereignty of the Rulers.
Section 4(1) of the Act covers the preparation of an action, which would have “a seditious tendency”. It also covers speech and the printing, publishing, selling (or offering for sale), distribution, reproduction or importation of seditious materials. In a briefing session with journalists, human rights lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah pointed out that...