Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing suggested that it is better for the government to just repeal the Sedition Act than replace it with another law whose provisions may be as selectively enforced as it predecessor's has been.

The head of the Catholic Church in the Melaka-Johor diocese was airing his comments to Malaysiakini on the move by Prime Minister Najib Razak to have the Sedition Act replaced by a National Harmony Act.

NONE"My intention is not take political sides but since this new law is about ensuring religious and racial harmony, I feel duty bound to hold forth on the matter," he remarked.

"The contemplated new law may turn out to be a misnomer,"
opined Bishop Paul Tan, who is concurrently president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

"Instead of promoting harmony, it may insure disharmony if its provisions are selectively enforced as has been the case with the Sedition Act," asserted the Jesuit-trained prelate.

The Sedition Act proscribes the questioning of a host of issues ranging from the position of Malay rulers to the status of Islam.
In announcing that a new National Harmony Act would be enacted to replace the Sedition Act, Najib has said that the government was seeking to balance the right to free speech with the need to protect institutions and positions considered sacrosanct by the Malaysian body politic.

Signs of growing maturity
"Consider what has happened in recent years," said Bishop Paul Tan.
"We have seen a politician or two and some religious leaders raise the bogey of Christian proselytisation of Muslims and proffer no substantive proof in support and yet they have not been hauled up for seditious speech.

"But more surprising still - and a wonderfully pleasant one at that - was that the general populace declined to react to the inflammatory posturing of the individuals concerned."

Bishop Paul Tan said this was perhaps a sign of growing maturity and discernment among the people that enables them to distinguish between religious charlatans seeking to stir the pot and democrats questing after an expansion of the parameters of civic debate.

"Why then enact a new law when the old one has not been equitably enforced and why promulgate new legislation when the majority has shown a heartening maturity that intuitively accepts what is held to be sacrosanct and knows who is an inciter and who a responsible democrat?" he asked.

"The authorities must know that cynicism follows hard upon the impulse to draw up laws with zeal and enforce them with bias and that best subsoil of a civil polity is the restraint that ordinary people exhibit in the face of willful and undeterred demagogues," said Bishop Paul Tan.

"Don't replace obsolete laws with newfangled ones, especially if you cannot be counted on to enforce them with equity," he contended.