KUALA LUMPUR April 10, 2015:
Amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 were passed in the Parliament today, albeit with several additional amendments after the motion was debated for 12 hours since yesterday.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in winding up the Bill, said in total there were seven negative perceptions raised.
He said the opposition MPs felt the amendments were unjust because of several issues that they had raised such as the issue of element or intention to commit sedition, selective prosecution, the application of the original 1948 law and application through electronic mediums and channels.
“The government’s decision to introduce the amendments is to address the sudden increase of many sedition related cases that could affect and disrupt the harmony of the people in this country.
“More importantly the amendments are very much improved as it contains value added elements such where criticising the government will no longer be an offence. This is to ensure that freedom of speech while available to all citizens is not misused,” he said.
Ahmad responding to Batu MP Tian Chua (PKR) also assured him that the issue of power abuse will not arise as the police force is committed to ensure that a fair and balanced investigation is conducted before justice is served.
“The amendments ensures that police will need to have strong evidence in order to prosecute someone for sedition. Before the fire becomes big, we need to stoke it down,” he said.
He said that the government has since further amended the Sedition (Amendment) Bill 2015 to reduce the minimum jail term and preserve the discretion of the court to grant bail for sedition offences instead of denying bail as stated initially in the bill.
The new amendments, which was made during the committee stage, showed that it seeks to improve the provisions of the controversial law.
“Among others, amendments were made to delete the illustration, which has been inserted for paragraph 3(1)(b) of the principal act,” he stated.
Ahmad said the latest changes also seek to amend the penalties by reducing the minimum sentence of imprisonment for the offence under the new subsection 4(1A) of the principal act from five years to three years.
This will also remove the act of importing seditious publication from the scope of the principal act.
“With this amendment, the act of importing seditious publication is no longer an offence under the principal act.
“Also, this amendment will preserve the discretion of the court to grant bail for sedition offences,” he added.
It is learnt that the latest amendments come after several BN MPs especially those from East Malaysia had initially expressed dissatisfaction to the amendment bill.
At 11.30pm, yesterday the amendments were passed for the third reading after the vote bloc was called with 108 voting for it and 79 against.
However the motion was finally passed without any bloc voting at 2.30am after debate on the tabling began at 2.30pm the day before.
The amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 was formulated as part of government efforts to tackle individuals and groups who have been propagating seditious and secessionist ideologies in the country.During the debate session, yesterday Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng was critical of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for backtracking on his earlier decision to abolish the Sedition Act
“In an interview with the BBC a few years earlier, Najib had said that he will be abolishing the act.
“Now not only is the act not going to abolished, it is going to be enhanced. This reckless act is a sign of betrayal towards the people,” he said
Lim also claimed that the amendments to the colonial era law could disrupt Malaysia’s future generation who could be living in fear throughout their lives.
“What difference will this future be from the box-office movie The Hunger Games, where sedition is also severely punished ?” he questioned while debating the Bill on the sedition amendments.
On Tuesday, the amendments to the controversial 1948 Act was tabled by Ahmad for the first reading.
Under Section 5(a) of the revised bill stipulates that a person will not be released on bail if there is a certificate in writing by the Public Prosecutor declaring that it is not “in the interest of the public” to release an offender on bail.
“The section is in line with the proposal to impose stiffer penalties for sedition charges that lead to bodily harm and damage to property,” a copy of the Sedition (Amendments) Bill 2015 reads.
A new section, 5(b), was also included to prevent one who is charged with sedition from leaving the country.“This includes getting the accused to hand over travel documents. The courts can also instruct the Immigration Department from issuing travel documents.”
According to the document, this is in line with the government’s intention to be more transparent and allow the public to voice their view or criticisms to ensure better accountability.
Additionally, under the proposed amendments, the government will take stern action against secessionist or groups who instigate others to call for a separation from Malaysia.It is believed that the particular paragraph is meant for secessionists calling for Sabah and Sarawak to leave Malaysia.
The bill was the first to be tabled yesterday, after the Barisan Nasional deferred three bills for tabling and discussion earlier following a lengthy session which lasted until2amyesterday.