A momentous development in Malaysia this week was overshadowed by news of the scandalous trial of 44 men charged with commercial sex with an underaged prostitute.
The Malaysian government has tabled a Bill to amend its Printing Presses and Publications Act (equivalent to Singapore’s Newspapers & Printing Presses Act) to greatly curtail the Government’s powers to control the press, and by implication, allow greater criticism and free speech.
The amendment will remove the Home Minister’s “absolute discretion” in granting or refusing a printing press licence, remove the requirement for annual renewal at the Minister’s discretion, remove his power to specify the period of validity of such licence, remove his discretion to grant a proprietor of any newspaper in Singapore a permit allowing such newspaper to be imported, sold, circulated or distributed in Malaysia.
The Minister’s powers to grant, extend, suspend or revoke licences will be subject to judicial review if the Amendment is passed.
To add insult to injury (to Singapore), PM Najib also announced that Malaysia will review the highly unpopular Sedition Act (again, equivalent to our Sedition Act).
Malaysia will preserve the key elements covered by the Sedition Act. It will still be seditious to oppose the monarchy, stir racial enmity, or to question Articles 151, 153 and 181 of the Federal Constitution [Art 151: Preventive detention; Art 153: Special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak; Art 181: Sovereignty of the Malay Rulers], etc. But the Act will be reviewed specifically to make clear that no one shall be detained under the Sedition Act for his political beliefs.
Together with the abolishment of the ISA, Malaysia is demonstrating that even a country that has far higher potential for ethnic and religious tensions can afford greater political and civil freedoms for its citizens.
Malaysia has seen the light. Or perhaps more correctly, Umno has seen the light.
When will you, PAP?