Malaysia parliament passes Sedition Act amendments in wee hours of Friday

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia's parliament passed amendments to the Sedition Act early Friday morning after a gruelling 12-hour debate.

There was no tally of Members of Parliament who voted for or against the bill in the final vote as there was no request for bloc voting, Malaysiakini reported.

The opposition had fought the bill every step of the way, but lost in a game of numbers, the news portal said. The second reading was passed 109 to 79 votes.

The government was forced to back down after its proposed amendments to the controversial Sedition Act drew criticism from both the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition MPs for being harsh and draconian.

One of the changes will now allow bail for those charged under the colonial-era law.

Another change pertaining to seditious acts that lead to bodily harm or property damage will reduce the minimum jail term from five to three years.

"This amendment will preserve the discretion of the court over whether to grant bail for sedition offences," said an explanatory statement on the changes, which followed a rare call from BN backbenchers for Putrajaya to withdraw amendments proposed on Tuesday.

From February to last month, about 160 people, mostly activists and opposition figures, were arrested and investigated for seditious acts, such as questioning the Federal Court's decision to jail opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy and taking part in rallies calling for his release.