KUALA LUMPUR - The Sedition (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat, together with several changes to the proposed amendments brought by the Government.
The Bill finally got the nod from the House at 2.30am yesterday after a gruelling 12-hour debate, despite attempts by Pakatan Rakyat MPs to block the amendments.
The Opposition had proposed nine changes to the Bill during the committee stage of the debate, but failed to get them approved by the House.
However, the Home Ministry's four changes to the proposed amendments were passed.
Among the changes introduced was to preserve the discretion of the Court, whether to grant bail for seditious offences.
This was done via the deletion of Section 5A, which stated that anyone charged with sedition shall not be released on bail if there was a "certificate in writing" by the public prosecutor stating that it was not in the public interest to grant bail to the person charged.
However, Section 5B, which seeks to empower the public prosecutor to apply to prevent an accused, who is released on bail, from leaving Malaysia was retained.
The Bill also states that the court could, upon application from the public prosecutor, order the accused to surrender his travel documents.
Other changes include reducing the minimum jail term for seditious offences that cause bodily injury or damage to property from five years to three years. The new changes also state that the act of importing seditious publication is no longer an offence under the principle Act.
Another change made was the removal of the illustration, which was inserted to make clear that the act of "exciting any person or group to demand for the secession of any state from Malaysia".
The part that was removed read: "A excites a person or a group of persons to demand for the secession of State B from Malaysia. Such act is seditious."
During debates, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the changes to the proposed amendments showed that the Government was sensitive to the issues raised over some provisions.
He assured the MPs that the amendments were needed to improve the sedition laws, which included "value-added" amendments to allow criticism of the Government and the judiciary.
He defended the Government's move to retain the sedition laws despite an assurance that it would be done away with in 2011.
"In light of the recent rise in sedition cases, the Government saw that there was a need to amend the parent Act to improve it," he said.
During a press conference at the Parliament lobby, Dr Ahmad Zahid clarified that the issue of talk of secession being a crime depended on the interpretation of the new law by the courts.
"Some say the interpretation is wide and will lead to abuse.
"It is the court that does the interpretation based on the terms and present legislations," he said.
He added that the amendments were vital to ensure sensitive issues relating to sedition, namely secession, use of social media and religion, were addressed.
"It is not true for the Opposition to say that this Act will be used to oppress the voice of dissent against the Government as it is clear that the provisions relating to the criticism to the Government in the principal Act were removed," he said.