Malaysian government may tweak proposed changes to Sedition Act

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government is expected to tweak proposed amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 following criticism from many quarters, including both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalitions.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who had tabled the Sedition (Amendments) Bill 2015 on Tuesday, heard feedback from Barisan lawmakers on the Bill, Malaysian media reported adding that the adjustments would be announced soon.

"As long as there is still room to make the law better, it is good," Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Wee Ka Siong said.

The amendment bill was meant to strengthen the existing colonial-era law. It included a provision where bail would be denied to those charged and penalty would be increased to a maximum of seven years in jail. 

Critics said it would give too much power to the police and undermine the rule of law in the country.

Activists and opposition politicians also expressed concerns that it would give Putrajaya a new tool to silence critics.

As many as 160 people were arrested and investigated under the Sedition Act in the last two months, most of them opposition politicians and activists, for offences such as holding rallies in support of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysian Insider reported.

Lawmakers from the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) had also opposed the amendments, the first time in recent years that BNBBC had disagreed with the government over a proposed law. They had met Dr Zahid to voice their concern over the issue.

BNBBC deputy chairman Bung Mokhtar Radin had called to allow further discourse by relevant stakeholders as a lack of awareness of the changes in the bill had led to confusion among the public.

"The amendments must be for the good of the people. If it is good, we will support. If not, we ask the government to pull back the amendments and discuss the content instead," he said.

On Thursday, BNBBC chief Tan Sri Shahrir Samad said the announcement on the changes would take into account concerns expressed by Barisan lawmakers, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak. "Some of them (amendments) will be withdrawn. Wait for the minister to announce,"  Mr Shahrir said, according to The Star news portal.

As the Bill is yet to be passed in the House, improvements can still be introduced.