Kuala Lumpur (dpa) – Malaysia’s parliament on Friday voted to strengthen the punishments under a colonial-era sedition law, but removed criticizing the government from the list of offences.
Among the amendments was a jail term of to up to 20 years for those convicted with aggravated sedition, causing bodily harm or damage to property.
Young and first-time offenders as well as repeat offenders could also be penalized with up to a seven-year jail sentence.
But the amendments limited the offences under the sedition law to speeches and publications that cause racial and religious tensions, and lawmakers removed criticizing the government and the judiciary from the list of offences.
Calling for secession was added to the offence list.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the amendments were necessary to ensure stability in the country.
“It is not true that the amendments will be unjust and cruel to those who disagree with the government,” he said.
Gobind Singh Deo, an opposition legislator, said the sedition law is too broad and leaves too much room for interpretation.
“A crime needs to be specific so that people know that it is a crime and they know that they can be punished if they commit it. Leaving it open allows for abuse,” he said.
N. Surendran, another opposition legislator, said increasing penalties for offences under the sedition law aims to stop people from expressing their views.
“The sedition law must be abolished,” he said.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), earlier expressed concern that the amendments to the sedition law “would seriously undermine the freedom of expression and opinion in the country.”