Jun 5, 2014

Two missing pieces in the draft National Harmony Act

Two missing pieces in the draft National Harmony Act — Rama Ramanathan

JUNE 5 — The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) has drafted bills to introduce three new laws, one of which will repeal Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act.

I am delighted that the NUCC is actively seeking feedback on these bills. The NUCC’s consultative approach is a breath of fresh air in the staleness of Malaysia where bills are enacted into law with neither public consultation nor informed Parliamentary debate.

The drafters seek to fulfil our Prime Minister’s promise to repeal the Sedition Act. The drafters seek to criminalize conduct intended to harm persons or property on the basis of racial or religious beliefs. The drafters seek to create a mechanism to exhume, revive and promulgate Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which confers equality for all.

The National Harmony Act

The National Harmony Act criminalises conduct which may threaten or incite physical harm on the basis of ancestry, colour, ethnicity, nationality, national origin or religious beliefs; it does not criminalise offensive, insulting or insensitive conduct devoid of the threat of harm.

The Harmony Act allows for punishment up to RM 5,000 and imprisonment up to 7 years for offences which do not result in actual harm. The same penalties apply to those who intentionally cause disaffection against any Ruler. The addition of “intentionally” removes a major criticism of the existing Sedition Act.

In cases where there is actual harm, the penalty is RM 10,000 or 10 years imprisonment or both.

I’m curious to know how the Harmony Act would have changed the fate of the 12 who conducted the cow head protest in August 2009. Six were charged with sedition, which carries a maximum fine of RM 5,000 and 3 years in jail. All were charged for illegal assembly, which carries a maximum fine of RM 10,000 and 1 year in jail.

In the cow head case, all were fined RM 1,000 each for illegal assembly. Two were fined RM 3,000 each for sedition. One of the two was also sentenced to a week in prison.

Reuters reported that their lead counsel, Salehuddin Saidin, said “For Malays, the cow symbolises stupidity, not an insult to any other religion.”

Salehuddin’s comment was especially offensive to Hindus, for whom the cow is sacred! The Home Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, was not charged for condoning the actions of the cow head protesters.

I’m curious to know whether Ibrahim Perkasa Ali’s call to burn Bibles and Perkasa patron Mahathir Mohamad’s brushing off Ibrahim’s call as a harmless opinion could result in both of them being prosecuted under the Harmony Act.

I’m curious to know whether those who offer rewards to slap others might prefer to be prosecuted under the Harmony Act rather than the Penal Code (Criminal Intimidation).

I’m curious to know whether the Harmony Act would “decriminalise” the Tiger of Jelutong’s expression of a legal opinion about the limits to the power of the Ruler of Perak.

I’m curious to know what the Harmony Act means to leaders who condoned Umno Youth’s threats last month against DAP members and property.

The National Unity Act


The reason for being of the National Unity Act is stunningly asserted in the first paragraph describing its objects: “To give effect to the letter and spirit of the Federal Constitution, in particular Article 8.”

It warms my heart that a Council appointed by the Prime Minister has the courage to blandly declare that Article 8 needs to be given new life. This is the NUCC’s summary of the essence of the bill:

“The Bill imposes an obligation on the Government and all persons to promote equality. The Bill also seeks to prohibit unfair discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, race, descent, place of birth, gender, or disability. Any unfair discrimination would give rise to a complaint under the National Unity and Integration Bill.”

Perhaps the Act will result in all Government departments setting targets and launching campaigns to promote equality – versus our current perception that their goal is to do the opposite.

Perhaps the Act will provide a means of redress for those who feel discriminated against in the Civil Service – though such protests may have to go to the Public Service Commission.

But will this Act curb the activities of religious authorities such as JAIS, MAIS and JAKIM which report to the Rulers and demonize Ahmadiyyas, Christians, LGBTs, Shiites and others?

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