©Malay Mail (Used by permission)
by JOSEPH SIPALAN
KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) is suggesting three separate bills to replace the Sedition Act 1948, including one to promote harmony and another prescribing mediation as a means to resolve disputes.
The conciliatory tone of the National Unity Bill is a departure from the restrictive nature of the colonial era law it is partly meant to replace and which critics contend is abused to silence dissent.
The bill aims to promote mediation as a means to solving any dispute that come under a list of “prohibited grounds”.
The list covers race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
It also includes other grounds where discrimination “causes or perpetuates systemic disadvantage”, “undermines human dignity”, or “adversely affects the equal enjoyment of a person’s rights and freedoms in a serious manner” based on colour, descent or ancestry, nationality or national origin, ethnicity or ethnic origin, or religion.
Mediation will not have a binding effect on the parties involved in the process, though the committee is considering including a mechanism to convert the agreed remedy to a problem into a High Court order in the case of a default by the offender.
Another proposed law, the National Harmony Bill, also seeks to spell out offences that will come under its purview, instead of the broad interpretation of sedition that has seen the law being applied to a broad range of instances.
Dubbed the National Harmony Bill, it outlines a list of punishments for conduct that is deemed to be deliberately aimed at instigating or leading to threats or actual acts of physical harm based on racial and religious hatred.
The bill also proposes to outlaw incitement against the Rulers, racial or religious hatred — proposing a penalty of RM5,000 fine, up to seven years’ jail time or both for each of the three categories.
Penalties prescribe go up to a RM10,000 fine, 10 years in prison or both if a person voluntarily causes physical harm against another person or class of persons or property on the basis of racial and religious hatred.
Preliminary drafts of the three bills were presented to a roundtable of civil society and NGO representatives last night, which aim to provide avenues for punitive action and routes for mediation in dealing with a host of disputes that are deemed threats to national harmony.
NUCC working committee on law and policy deputy chairman Lim Chee Wee, who presented the drafts, noted that the Bill includes a clause that a person shall not be deemed to “excite disaffection against any Ruler if it is to show that any Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures”.
A third bill will deal with the formation of a National Unity and Integration Commission, which will be tasked to promote national unity, integration, equality and non–discrimination, among others.
It will also be empowered to investigate complaints of discrimination, leading to the establishment of an unfair discrimination tribunal should mediation efforts fail.
Lim stressed that all three bills are still at the preliminary stage and are far from being finalised.
“This is just the third roundtable session we have had so far and there will be many more. We hope to continue with public consultation over the next few months, and hopefully we can send back our findings to the NUCC within this year,” he said when met after the roundtable meeting.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak pledged to repeal the Sedition Act in July 2012 as a continuation of his pledge to afford Malaysians greater civil liberties.
But the law remains in effect and continues to be applied despite repeated vows that it will be abolished.