PETALING JAYA - The Bar Council has called on the Government to stick to its earlier promise to repeal the Sedition Act.
Its president Steven Thiru said the amendments tabled on Tuesday allow for severe punishments for an offence that was poorly defined under the Sedition Act.
"It still does not permit intention or truth as a defence, imposes very harsh and disproportionate penal sanctions and deprives the judiciary of its sentencing and other discretion that it has in criminal matters," he said yesterday.
He said the amendments were a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression as there was no clarity on what amounts to "seditious tendency" under Section 3(1).
"The enhancement of punishment, with no more fine, is harsh and disproportionate to the purported offence.
"It will automatically disqualify a Member of Parliament. What is more serious is the fixing of a minimum sentence which is an interference with judicial discretion on sentencing," he said.
Citing another example, Steven pointed that a judge can no longer mete out a sentence of imprisonment that is less than three years.
"A judge cannot discharge a person convicted of sedition conditionally or unconditionally or take into account the fact that the person is a youthful offender or that the person is a first time offender.
"These are all sentencing discretion that are always left to the judge but have now been taken away," he said.
The new Section 4(1A), Steven said, was a drastic amendment and penalises sedition severely with imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years.
"This aggravated form of sedition which requires only a tenuous link between the act of sedition and 'bodily harm or property damage' can be easily abused by, for example, agent provocateurs," he added.
He said it was unjustified and unprecedented for a person charged with sedition to be denied bail.
"Denial of bail cannot be used as a form of punishment when there is no conviction," he said.
Meanwhile, lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz questioned the need for the Government to specify that inciting of hatred, contempt or dissatisfaction against the Government or administration of justice in Malaysia, was not seditious.
"The definition of criticising the Government is really subjective. People have been voicing out their grouses and criticising the Government without any action taken against them under Sedition Act. There is no need for such a provision," he said.
He also welcomed the move to penalise any person who promotes feelings of hostility between persons or groups on the grounds of religion.
"Protecting the religion must be the top priority to protect the sensitivity of not just Islam but for all Malaysians," he said.