Amendments to Sedition Act an attack on the rule of law, says Bar chief

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(April 8): The Malaysan Bar, which last year called for the repeal of the Sedition Act, said amendments to the law proposed by Putrajaya are a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression.

Its president Steven Thiru said there was still no clarity of what amounts to "seditious tendency" in Section 3(1), but there was now a new clause of seditious tendency that is vague .

He also said the enhancement of punishment, with no more fines, was harsh and disproportionate to the 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 in a text message today.

Steven said a judge could not mete out a sentence of imprisonment that was less than three years.

Further , he said a judge could not discharge a person convicted of sedition conditionally or unconditionally or take into account that the person was a youthful offender or a first time offender.

"These are all sentencing discretions that are always left to the judge, but have now been taken away. The government is curtailing the judiciary," he added.

He said the new Section 4(1A) was a drastic amendment and penalised sedition severely with imprisonment up to a maximum of 20 years.

Steven said this aggravated form of sedition which required only a tenuous link between the act of sedition and "bodily harm or property damage "could be easily abused by, for example, agent provocateurs.

"It is shocking that the government will include this oppressive amendment and again remove judicial discretion (as there is a minimum sentence of 5 years). Moreover, a person charged with this aggravated sedition can be denied bail.

"This is unprecedented and unjustified. Bail cannot be used as a form of punishment when there is no conviction. Bail is denied for very serious crimes and sedition, by any stretch, cannot fall under that category," he added.

Moreover, he said the denial of bail depended on a certificate in writing of the public prosecutor.

"The judge has no discretion on whether or not to grant bail once the certificate is issued by the prosecutor. Again, judicial discretion on a critical matter in criminal proceedings is taken out of the hands of the judiciary," he said.

Likewise, a judge is obliged to order that a person, charged with sedition but on bail, cannot travel outside Malaysia on application of the Public Prosecutor .  

He said the amendments allowed for severe punishment for an offence that is poorly defined and still did not permit intention or truth as a defence. – The Malaysian Insider