Malaysia student activist jailed for sedition

2014-09-05 15:30
Student activist Safwan Anang. (Mohd Rasfan, AFP)

Student activist Safwan Anang. (Mohd Rasfan, AFP)

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Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian court on Friday sentenced a student activist to 10 months in jail for sedition, sparking renewed calls from rights groups to repeal a colonial-era legislation increasingly used by the government to stifle dissent.

The guilty verdict against Safwan Anang, aged 24, follows a recent wave of charges under the Sedition Act, including three opposition legislators in the past two weeks and a respected university lecturer on Tuesday.

Rights group Amnesty International called on the Southeast Asian nation to end its "alarming use" of the law, while dozens of students staged a protest on Friday to urge Prime Minister Najib Razak to honour his 2012 pledge to repeal the act.

Najib said on Friday that the government would continue to use the act until a more fine-tuned law to curb hate speech could be passed. The new legislation is expected to be ready by end of 2015.

"I want to issue a warning that the existing law will be imposed on anyone attempting to jeopardise peace. This is certainly in force", he was quoted by the national news agency Bernama as saying.

"We must look for a formula where we provide space for the freedom of speech, but at the same time, there must be a limit."

Earlier on Friday, a Kuala Lumpur district court sentenced activist Safwan to 10 months in jail. The court allowed him to remain free pending appeal.

Safwan was found guilty of sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail for a speech he made that allegedly encouraged people to topple the government after divisive polls in May last year.

Najib's coalition, which has ruled the country since independence in 1957, lost the popular vote for the first time in a general election last year but managed to retain control of parliament through what critics described as gerrymandering.

Used 'selectively'

In a noisy protest Friday outside the home ministry in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, about 60 students called on the government to abolish the sedition law.

"The Sedition Act is not relevant. It's used selectively. It's not fair", said Wan Nur Syamimi Wan Sajiri, a 22-year-old student leader.

More than 110 NGOs also formed a coalition on Friday to urge the government to repeal the act and drop all existing charges.

Malaysia's opposition is also planning a series of protests.

Amnesty International said at least 15 people had been charged or investigated under the Sedition Act this year, accusing the government of "fostering a climate of repression".

Police on Thursday questioned reporter Susan Loone for nine hours over an article she had written based on an interview with an opposition politician who complained about police treatment in detention.

Loone, who works for independent online news portal Malaysiakini, was released late on Thursday pending further investigations under the sedition law.

Najib had promised to abolish the act as part of a drive to claw back sliding support, but the reforms have lost momentum amid a pushback from conservative hardliners in his party.

Read more on:    ai  |  najib razak  |  malaysia

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