KUALA LUMPUR: The Dewan Rakyat has passed amendments to the Sedition Act 1948, with several changes made to the bill after the federal government took into account views from various quarters including parliamentarians.
The bill was passed via a voice vote at 2.30am on Friday after 12 hours of debating.
One of the changes made to the bill was to maintain the Court’s prerogative in granting bail for seditious offences.
This was done via the scrapping of the proposal to introduce Section 5A, which stated that anyone charged with Sedition shall not be released on bail if there is a "certificate in writing" by the Public Prosecutor stating that it is not in the public interest to grant bail to the person who is charged.
The proposal to create Section 5B, however, remained and was passed. This section empowers the court to prevent an accused, who is released on bail, from leaving the country.
"This includes ordering the person charged to surrender his travel documents.
"In cases where the person does not hold any travel document, the court may order the Immigration Director- General to refuse the issuance of any travel documents to the person.
The changes to the amendment, which were read out by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, also include the reduction of the minimum jail term for seditious offences that cause bodily injury or damage to property from five years to three years.
Meanwhile, the act of importing seditious publication is no longer considered an offence under the mother Act.
The federal government also withdrew an example of its definition of seditious tendencies in its latest revision to its proposed changes to the Act.
The line that was deleted is: “Illustration — A excites a person or a group of persons to demand for the secession of state B from Malaysia. Such act is seditious.”
Meanwhile, Clause 8 of the bill, which sought to amend Section 10 of the current Act, was passed.
The amendments include empowering the court to issue an order to remove Seditious publications which is made by electronic means such as online publication.
The amendments will also introduce Section 10A which empowers the court to issue an order to an authorised officer under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 to prevent access to such publications if the perpetrator is not identified.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when winding up the debate at the policy stage said there were seven negative perceptions raised by members of parliament during the debates.
In clarifying the negative perceptions, Zahid said the amendments made to the Act were necessary as there was a spike in the number of sedition-related cases which, if not dealt with, could disrupt harmony in the country.
He said the amendments were made in view in the changing political landscape, where individuals and groups have been found to spread seditious and secessionist ideologies over social media and the Internet.
"Last time, there was no Internet and non-verbal communication over social media. Those days, we didn't have groups of people inciting people (in Sabah and Sarawak) to get out of Malaysia.
"The unity of the country remains our topmost priority," he said.
Ahmad Zahid also assured the public that the government and law enforce would not abuse the Act to stifle dissent and persecute the people.
He pointed out that the Act not meant to curtail freedom of speech, but to tackle individuals and groups who made statements which could destabilise the country.
"As the saying goes, we need to put out the fire while it is still small. Once it becomes big, the fire will be harder to handle," he said.
Reports by: ADRIAN LAI, HANA NAZ HARUN and TASNIM LOKMAN