Malaysia: Acquittal of individuals charged for sedition a positive move for free speech

  • A Malaysian court has acquitted three government critics charged under the draconian Sedition Act
  • A renown political cartoonist, a human rights lawyer and a parliamentarian were on trial for criticism of the government and judiciary’s political-motivated prosecution of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
  • CIVICUS calls for sedition charges against others for their activism, to be dropped
  • The government must also repeal the Sedition Act ahead of the UN human rights review in November

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, welcomes the acquittals today of three people who had been charged under the draconian Sedition Act.

Political cartoonist Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee Anwar Ul Haque, had been on trial for nine tweets he posted following a controversial court ruling in 2015, upholding the conviction and five-year prison sentence of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Zunar’s satirical cartoons have been sharply critical of the previous Barisan Nasional government.

Human rights lawyer Surendran had been charged with sedition in 2014 for comments he made in a YouTube video, criticising Prime Minister Najib Razak while parliamentarian Sivarasa Rasiah was charged in 2015 for his claims of a political conspiracy between the government and judiciary, against Anwar.

The draconian anti-sedition law has been increasingly used since 2013 to silence, harass or jail hundreds of government critics including human rights activists, journalists, academics, lawyers and opposition politicians.

Said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space research officer: “The acquittal and release of these individuals charged under the Sedition Act, solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, is a positive move by the Malaysian courts. It gives many hope that we will see genuine human rights reforms under the new government.”

In an historic election outcome in May, former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad took office after defeating Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Barisan Nasional party, which had ruled the country since its independence 61 years ago.

“CIVICUS calls for all sedition charges and other repressive laws facing Malaysians who have spoken out against their government’s actions, to be dropped immediately and unconditionally. This includes the recent police investigation into lawyer and activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, under the new Malaysian government,” Benedict said.

Malaysia will be facing the UN Human Rights Council in November 2018 to review their human rights record. In its submission to that process, CIVICUS is calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act, and the dismissal of all charges and convictions of people prosecuted under that law, simply for peacefully exercising their right to the freedom of expression. This recommendation was also made by several member states in Malaysia’s previous human rights  review in 2013.

“It is critical that the new Malaysian government, which has made public commitments to respect freedom of expression and the right to an opinion to immediately repeal the draconian Sedition Act and all restrictive legislation. The act has been systematically used by the previous government to silence critics and has no place in a rights-respecting society.”

CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, has rated the space for civil society in Malaysia as ‘Obstructed’.


For more information, please contact:

Josef Benedict

CIVICUS Civic Space Research Officer for Southeast Asia


CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and individuals dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  We work for civil society, protecting the fundamental civic freedoms that allow us to speak out, organise and take action. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people to organise, mobilise and take action; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.  We strive to promote excluded voices, especially from the Global South, and have more than 4000 members in more than 175 countries.



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