: The proposed Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill will make it harder to charge an individual that may have been previously deemed seditious, said the drafters of one of the three ‘unity bills’ to replace the Sedition Act.
The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) said controversial remarks— such as the reported threat by Perkasa to burn Bibles with the word ‘Allah’, the labeling of Chinese as ‘trespassers’ by Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and the two bloggers’ of the ‘Bak Kut Teh’ video — are unlikely to be offences if the new law is passed.
“At this moment, all you need to do to charge someone under sedition is to show that what was done creates discontent and hatred. It doesn’t matter what is your intention but now we have made it so that intent is an important element,” said deputy chairman of the NUCC law and policy committee Lim Chee Wee.
Lim said what is being done with the bill was in line with what NUCC thinks Prime Minister Najib Razak’s intention to repeal the sedition act.
“It (Sedition Act) was seen to be draconian; anything that is said can be prosecuted. There is perception -- true of false -- that there has been abuse. If you look at the convictions, eight out of 10 were opposition members. Another reason is that it restricted freedom of speech,” said Lim.
Lim explained that Clause 7 of the proposed legislation protects people from being prosecuted when having a robust debate on race and religion.
But asked whether such a clause could be misused, Lim said people should be free to criticize and debate as long as it does not cause actual or physical harm, although he admitted that the NUCC was still studying the scope of ‘harm’ and whether to include mental harm.
“For example, if I were to hit somebody. I would be charged with causing grievous bodily harm. But if I do it in the name of race and religious, then I can be prosecuted under this law,” he said.
Lim said that a recent statement by Perkasa Negeri Sembilan chief Ruslan Kassim to ‘behead’ anyone who refuse to respect the sanctity of Islam and betray the position of the Selangor Sultan as the head of religion in the state, could possibly be an offence but is up to the prosecutors and the courts to decide.
The Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill makes it an offence in these categories: incitement against rulers, incitement of racial hatred, incitement of religious hatred, physical harm on basis of racial and religious hatred.
The NUCC is also proposing two other laws to replace the Sedition Act 1948, namely the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill.
NUCC committee member Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said that there has been positive feedback from stakeholders and the consultative process will continue, and no time limit has been set before it is being tabled in Parliament.
“The bills take into several fundamental context, which is the Federal Constitution, the Rukunegara, the social contract, history, culture and so on; freddom of speech; and the New Reality of life today, which includes information technology and social media, new social awareness, the 3rd phase of democracy, educated people, and urbanization and the middle class.
Saifuddin said that before it goes to Parliament, NUCC would want a Parliamentary Select Committee to deliberate the bills.