PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia’s laws must properly define what is considered insulting to the monarchy, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (Jan 10).
His remarks came as Putrajaya said it will enact new legislation to protect the sanctity of the monarchy from being humiliated and attacked.
“At the moment, our enforcement officers do not understand what is considered insult, so we need to spell out what sort of actions or words can be construed as insults,” Mahathir was quoted as saying by The Star during a press conference.
He said Malaysia now practises freedom of speech and people cannot be prosecuted if they make factual statements.
“(But) if we shut the mouths of everyone until people cannot even speak up against acts of crime, then there will be injustice in the country,” said the prime minister.
Earlier in the day, minister in the prime minister’s department Liew Vui Keong said the government will enact new legislation, as well as amend existing laws to protect the sanctity of the rulers.
Liew said the government will probably look at the penal aspect of the law. “At the moment, the punishment for certain offences against the monarchy was on the low side (lenient),” he said.
He also noted that the Sedition Act, which was passed in 1948, carried punishments that are mismatched with current societal conditions.
“Ours is a constitutional monarchy. So, the government must always ensure that our rulers are protected from unfounded slander and attacks by irresponsible people,” he told reporters after delivering the 2019 new year message at the prime minister’s department.
The minister stressed that the objective is to ensure that Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy “will always be protected from all kinds of attack”.
In formulating the new laws, the government will look at constitutional monarchies in some Commonwealth countries, Liew said.
The minister added that he would bring up the matter during his meeting with the respective legal heads and secretaries-general of all ministries at the end of this month.
The meeting would also look into the laws to be repealed and amended at the parliament sessions in 2019, he said.
PUBLIC URGED TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA PRUDENTLY
There have been growing calls for punishment to be imposed on those who insult the monarchy.
On Wednesday, the police said two men and a woman were arrested for allegedly insulting former Malaysian king Sultan Muhammad V on social media, in relation to his recent abdication.
Sultan Muhammad V had stepped down on Sunday, confirming rumours that were circulating online earlier last week.
The Conference of Rulers will elect a new king on Jan 24. In the meantime, Sultan Nazrin of Perak, the deputy king, will serve as acting head of state.
Police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the three individuals involved will be investigated under the Sedition Act.
The Sedition Act currently penalises first-time offenders with a maximum RM5,000 (US$1,220) fine or a maximum three-year jail term or both, with a subsequent offence punishable by a maximum five-year jail term.
"The public is advised to use social media prudently and refrain from making statements that are provocative or that misconstrue the abdication of Yang di-Pertuan Agong XV, to the extent of causing a negative perception toward the royal institution of this country," the police chief added.