KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 — Parliament today passed a Bill to amend the Sedition Act 1948 after a record debate, effectively granting wider jurisdiction to the authorities to take action on speech or activities that are seen as seditious in nature.

The Bill was passed on a simple majority following a voice vote at 2.30am, after it was debated for over 14 hours and was subjected to one bloc vote at the second reading that ended with 108 MPs for and 79 against.

The Bill was tabled for its first reading on Tuesday, proposing to amend the colonial-era law to allow for criticism of the government in a bid to “create transparent and accountable administration” amid widespread opprobrium over its use on political dissenters if passed by Parliament.

It, however, makes it an offence to excite “ill will, hostility or hatred” on grounds of religion and race as well as to demand the secession of a state from Malaysia, while maintaining the prohibitions towards exciting disaffection against the rulers or questioning issues such as Bumiputera privileges.

The Bill also added a new section that imposes a penalty of between five and 20 years jail for sedition crimes that cause bodily harm or property damage, while it increases the jail term for general sedition crimes to between three and seven years.

Prior to the amendments, the colonial era law imposed a maximum three-year jail term or maximum RM5,000 fine on first time offenders, and a maximum five-year jail term for repeat offenders.

Another new section states that a judge shall order the prevention of access to an online publication deemed to be seditious.

Up to 150 opposition leaders and activists have been hauled up under the Sedition Act recently.

Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but later announced in November last year that it will be retained and expanded instead.

BY JOSEPH SIPALAN and Melissa Chi, Malaymail Online