A Malaysian court sentenced a student democracy activist to a year in jail yesterday after finding him guilty of sedition, drawing immediate condemnation from human rights groups who accuse the government of using the colonial-era law to stifle freedom of expression.
Adam Adli was charged last year after making statements at a political meeting following national elections, including one in which he urged people to “go down to the streets to seize back our power.”
“Guilty,” Adam tweeted from the courtroom. “Having a different opinion is apparently a crime now according to our dearest prosecutor.” Adam was freed on bail pending appeal to a higher court.
At least 14 people including opposition lawmakers, academics and a journalist have been charged under Malaysia’s Sedition Act since last year, mostly for criticizing the government or ruling officials. Those found guilty face up to three years in prison and a fine. Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government.
Human Rights Watch said Malaysia’s ruling party, which has been in power in coalition with other parties since 1957, was “showing the kind of authoritarian tendencies one usually associates with single-party rule rather than democracy.”
“More than anything, this conviction shows the incredible danger posed by the Sedition Act, which is so vague that it can be used by the government to criminalize any sort of speech it deems offensive,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last year said the government planned to eventually abolish the Sedition Act and replace it with laws that would strike a better balance between allowing freedom of speech and ensuring public stability.
However, he appears to have backtracked after his ruling coalition’s poor performance in general elections in May last year.
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