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Weighing the amendments to the Sedition Act

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Jeyakumar Devaraj looks at the good and bad points in the amendments to the Sedition Act.

The good point of the changes that the government has brought is that criticising the government or the judiciary is no longer classified as a “seditious” tendency.

But there are more bad points:

Section 4 which prescribes punishment for sedition has been enhanced. Previously, the judge had the option of fining the person. But with this amendment, that option is removed and the judge has to give a prison sentence. The prison sentence, specified as not exceeding three years in the original act, has now been increased to between three and seven years.

A new Section 4 (1A) has been created that prescribes a jail sentence of up to 20 years if any damage to property or to person occurs as a result of the seditious act.

Section 6 has been amended by omitting subsection 1 which specifies that the person accused of sedition cannot be convicted on the basis of the uncorroborated evidence of a single witness.

A new section 6A has been created which specifies that sections 173A, 293 and 294 of the Criminal Procedure Code shall not apply in respect of offences under subsection 4(1A).

Section 173A – After a charge of sedition is proved against any person, the judge can, on account of the age or physical condition of the accused or trivial nature of the offence, give a nominal punishment or release the accused on probation.

Section 293 give the judge the discretion to let off a youthful offender with an admonition or on a bond by his parents or guardian.

Section 294 allows similar discretionary leeway for first-time offenders.

The bill was passed with a voice vote at 2.40am today after a 14-hour debate. A bloc vote at the second reading ended with 108 MPs for and 79 MPs against the amendments.

They must really have wanted this!

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Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, a long-time Aliran member and contributor, served as Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput from 2008 to 2018. A respiratory physician who was awarded a gold medal for community service, he is also a secretariat member of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation and chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.
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