Students found guilty amid spate of sedition cases

The clamour of voices calling for the Malaysian government to repeal its controversial Sedition Act grew louder as a law student recently received a one-year jail term under the Sedition law – the second student to be found guilty of sedition this month.

Adam Adli Abdul Halim, 25, was handed down the sentence by a Kuala Lumpur court on 19 September for making ‘seditious’ statements in May last year, just after Malaysia’s general elections.

Prosecutors said he made statements that amounted to incitement to overthrow the government. Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamad Abazafree Mohd Abbas argued that Adam’s speech threatened public peace.

The sentence followed that of Muhammad Safwan Anang, 24, a former chair of the student group Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia, who was sentenced to 10 months in jail on 5 September for making seditious remarks during the same May 2013 rally.

Safwan was the first student to be convicted of sedition, just days after law professor Azmi Sharom on 2 September became the first Malaysian academic to be found guilty under the British colonial era law.

Spate of charges

The moves have rocked Malaysia’s universities, but they are not alone.

Some 20 opposition politicians and a journalist are facing a spate of sedition charges laid in the space of some four weeks, leading to criticism by human rights groups that the government is using the law to clamp down on freedom of expression.

Student Adam said he would appeal his conviction, and in a tweet after the verdict he commented: “Having a different opinion is apparently a crime now according to our dear prosecutor.”

After being released on bail pending his appeal to a higher court, he told local media such charges were “a form of intimidation”, and that he would continue his national campaign against the act with other groups that are opposing it.

University of Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom, the first academic to be charged – and found guilty – under the Sedition Act, has already applied to challenge the constitutionality of the act on the grounds that the colonial legislation was not enacted by Malaysia’s parliament.

His appeal is currently being reviewed by the Attorney General.

The president of the Malaysian Bar Council, Christopher Leong, said the year-long sentence imposed on Adam was excessive.

“The Malaysian Bar views that the custodial sentence of 12 months prison is wholly disproportionate to the offence," he said at a press conference after the Bar Council held an extraordinary general meeting on the Sedition Act.

Under the act a sentence of up to three years for a first-time offender, a fine or both can be imposed.

In an unusual decision the Bar Council agreed to hold a peaceful protest against the sedition cases and urged the Attorney General to withdraw all pending charges and cases. It also called on the federal government to abide by its pledge to repeal the Sedition Act 1948.