Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security
The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom (No. 2)
Closed Contracts Expression
Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:
Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.
Adam Adli was charged under Section 4 of Malaysia’s Sedition Act after making remarks interpreted to incite a government overthrow at a post-election forum organized by Suara Anak Muda Malaysia (“SAMM”), an opposition party in Malaysia. The forum was held on May 13, 2013 at the KI/Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur. The Session Court sentence Adli to one year in prison on September 18, 2014, but Malaysia’s High Court reduced the sentence to a fine of RM 5,000 (approximately USD 1,250) on February 18, 2016.
Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
Adli was arrested on May 18, 2013 by ten plainclothes police officers in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, and was brought to Jinjang Police Remand Center shortly thereafter.
He was charged on May 23, 2014, under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act. His remarks were considered to be intended incite the public to topple the government through street protests. The forum was held shortly after the Barisan Nasional (“BN”), a political headed by the current Prime Minister Najib Razak, won the general election.
On September 18, 2014, the Session Court ruled that Adli was guilty of sedition and sentenced him to one year in prison. Adli was released shortly after he posted RM 5,000 as a surety. In Court, his lawyer, Latheefa Koya, defended Adli’s speech on the grounds that it had not resulted in any violence and had not produced any victims, and that the speech was a “genuine concern” shared by the public regarding the controversiality of Najib Razak’s election. However, in the opinion of Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamad Abazafree Mohd Abbas, the speech was considered to be harmful to public peace and had portrayed the government as cruel. He also added that Adli, who had received a good education, should not have used unlawful methods to incite the public to overthrow the government. The Sessions Court judge Mat Ghani Abdullah did not state any legal reasoning behind the Court’s ruling.
On appeal, the High Court reduced the one year jail sentence to a fine of RM 5,000. The High Court judge Justice Ab Karim Ab Rahman stated that a jail sentence would be too harsh for such an offence as the speech delivered by Adam did not lead to any negative effects. The judge stated that “there were no negative reactions to his speech. After considering the public interest, I also believe that a jail sentence is not the only way to teach him a lesson, besides being unreasonable.” The judge that “taking into account public importance in this case, I feel that the sentence by the Sessions Court was excessive. I replace the sentence with a fine of RM 5,000 in default of six months.” However, the High Court judge agreed with the lower court that Adam’s speech had “seditious tendencies.”
It was reported that the Deputy Public Prosecutor, Julia Ibrahim, had requested the court to give Adli a deterrent sentence, reasoning that Adli spoke “as if [deliberately] challenging authorities. He stated his full name and identity card number when he began his speech. It shows he was well aware of the risks and consequences of his actions.”
No legal opinion was published providing the reasoning for this case. Accordingly, the following paragraphs present a contextual analysis of the law upon which the decision was based.
According to statistics, the number of individuals who have been arrested, investigated, or prosecuted under the Sedition Act has significantly risen over recent years. The government led by Najib Razak has been criticized for using the Act (a remnant from the British colonial era) to silence those who criticize Razak’s political party and regime.
The law has been criticized as interpreted very broadly due to the ambiguous scope of the language of the law. Section 3 of the Act describes the actions that are considered as “seditious intent”, which are very broadly defined, while Section 4 of the law renders the intent described in Section 3 an offense in and of itself. According to the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, the courts in Malaysia make conviction an almost inevitable result of prosecution because the courts do not require any proof that the statements charged would (or may have) lead to the results stated in Section 3. There is also no mechanism which defendants could state that he/she has no seditious intent or that the statement is true.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts expression because the defendant had been prosecuted from exercising his right to freedom of expression. Even though the defendant was not imprisoned because of the speech in question, the decision of the High Court still creates fear among those who would criticize Malaysia’s government. As Adli exercised his right to freedom of expression, the charge against him and the monetary fine required by the Court oppose his right.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Session Court found that the defendant has seditious tendencies under Malaysia’s Sedition Act, and accordingly, sentenced the defendant to one year in prison. On appeal, Malaysia’s High Court upheld the lower court’s finding of guilt but reduced the sentence to a monetary fine of RM5,000.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.