Umno minister against changes to Evidence Act for curbing freedom of information

August 11, 2012
Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah says the amendment to Section 114A of the Evidence Act may become a threat to the Internet sector.
KUALA LUMPUR: Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah described today the controversial amendment to Section 114A of the Evidence Act as a “hiccup” to Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political transformation programme.

The Umno leader, speaking at a Bar Council forum on the law’s possible threat to internet freedom, said the law was a setback to Najib’s democratic reforms as the Act gives wide prosecution powers to create fear and narrow dissenting space.

Critics of the law claimed the section makes it easy for the government to charge anyone seen “facilitating” what is deemed as criminal comments on the internet even if the comments were made by someone else.
Those supporting the Act argued that the law gives space for the accused to prove innocence although they admit that it does not solve the problem of hacking or fraudulence where criminal comments may be posted by hackers under fake accounts.

“I am a supporter to the prime minister’s transformation programme..I support democratic reforms so I (as a layperson) don’t need this,” he said.

The Malaysian government under the Mahathir administration, in an effort to promote the country’s internet communication technology market, vowed to leave internet free as it aims to draw investments into a sector that makes up 4.1% of GDP.

Saifuddin said the amendment may become a threat to the sector.
Najib said recently that he would continue his predecessor’s legacy by guaranteeing online freedom together with the announcement of a raft of political reforms including the plan to repeal the Sedition Act.

“Its a hiccup. As a layperson I find it hard to explain to the people that this (law) may not lead to internet censorship,” Saifuddin commented.

K Shanmuga, a prominent lawyer and legal activist, speaking at the forum said since the Sedition Act provides arbitrary power to label anything as seditious, the law with the existence of the new internet law would make users indiscriminately liable to the Sedition Act as long as its not repealed.

Burden of proof
But Faizal Moideen, another lawyer speaking at the forum, said he agreed that the new law gives wide prosecution powers said not all is bad about Section 114A. He described the opposition towards the amendment as “alarmist”.

“It does not create the presumption of guilt,” he said, adding that the prosecution will have to first prove the accused of wrongdoing although other panelists, including Saifuddin, disagreed, saying that the process itself is already creating problems for internet users.

The amendment was passed by the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara in April this year amid accusations that it was bulldozed through along with other reform laws without proper debate on its repercussions.
Section 114A — otherwise known as Evidence (Amendment) (No 2) Act 2012 — was gazetted on July 31 by de facto law minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

Rights activists like the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ) is now  calling upon Internet users to take part in an Internet Blackout Day on August 14 to create awareness among Internet users about the negative impact of an amendment on online expression.

The government dismissed accusations that it was trying to use a backdoor to censor the internet. Saifuddin, together with Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, one of the few progressive leaders within the ruling coalition have called on the Najib administration for a review of the law.

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