Malaysian authorities must immediately drop politically motivated sedition charges against a lawyer who could face up to three years in prison over a tweet criticizing an Islamic state agency, Amnesty International said.
Eric Paulsen, a human rights lawyer and co-founder of the NGO Lawyers for Liberty, was today charged under Malaysia’s Sedition Act for a tweet he sent on 12 January 2015. The tweet called on the government to prevent the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) from “promoting extremism”.
“These politically motivated charges must be dropped immediately and unconditionally. It is ludicrous that someone could face three years in prison simply for a tweet critical of the authorities,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Eric Paulsen is a known human rights defender, and has been targeted simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. If he is jailed, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience.”
Over the past year, Malaysian authorities have made increasing use of the colonial-era Sedition Act, a draconian law originally targeting those who called for Malaysia’s independence, and which gives the government sweeping powers to arrest and lock up critics.
At least 18 people – including journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders – have been charged under the law since the start of 2014. Eric Paulsen is the second member of Lawyers for Liberty to face sedition charges over the past year.
“The Malaysian authorities’ relentless use of the Sedition Act to silence any dissent must end immediately. This amounts to a serious assault on freedom of expression that has had a chilling effect on public debate in the country,” said Rupert Abbott.
Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about the 1948 Sedition Act. The law criminalizes a wide array of acts, including those “with a tendency to excite disaffection against any Ruler or government” or to “question any matter” protected by Malaysia’s Constitution. Those found guilty under the Act can face up to, three years in jail, be fined up to MYR 5,000 (approximately USD 1,570) or both. The law does not comply with international human rights law, and violates the right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also guaranteed in Article 10 of Malaysia’s Constitution.