Malaysia Set to Debate Draft Anti-Terror Law

By BenarNews Staff
2015.03.09
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MY-najib-620-March2015 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses his party’s annual congress in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 7, 2014.
AFP

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Monday dismissed criticism that a draft anti-terrorism law could impinge on human rights by being too draconian.

“Preventive” laws were needed to tackle terrorist threats, the minister told local media as Malaysia’s House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) opened its first session of 2015.

During the month-long session the government is expected to introduce a bill framing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Among other things, this tougher law would aim to contain the domestic influence and recruitment efforts of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

“We need the Prevention of Terrorism Act [POTA] because other laws are punitive, this is preventive,” Malay Mail Online quoted Zahid as telling reporters Monday.

Critics say the bill too closely resembles the Internal Security Act (ISA), which the government repealed in 2012. POTA, they say, would allow authorities to detain a suspected terrorist without trial for two years and even longer.

“They can say anything they want. As the government, we have to protect the people,” Zahid added in response to concerns raised by human rights advocates that POTA would effectively bring back the Internal Security Act.

Last week, he denied that the two laws could be “equated.”

Yet Zahid acknowledged that, under POTA, authorities could hold a suspect indefinitely without trial beyond the first two years of detention, Malay Mail Online reported Thursday.

“However, those who are suspected of being involved in terrorism and are detained without trial can still obtain justice because they will be allowed to appoint their own lawyers,” he said on March 5.

MPs want to see bill

On Monday, the home minister called on members of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat bloc to back the POTA bill.

N. Surendran, vice president of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) and an MP who represents  Padang Serai, in northwestern Kedah state, was among those questioning the draft law’s potential to encroach on civil liberties.

“This is a crucial bill which will have wide impact on civil liberties and law enforcement powers. Yet, we have not been given copies of the bill even though the sitting has started,” Malay Mail Online quoted the lawmaker as saying.

A threat from homecoming jihadis

The idea of drafting tougher anti-terrorist legislation was floated nearly five months ago by Prime Minister Najib Razik, the same leader who repealed the ISA.

In late November, he introduced a white paper in parliament detailing the extent of the national security threat posed by IS and other jihadist groups.

Malaysia’s anti-terror laws needed to be toughened because of a danger from Malaysian members of IS importing terrorism and fomenting violence after returning home from combat tours in the Middle East, Najib told parliament then.

"Looking at the potential threat from this group, we fear the return of Malaysians from the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq will be detrimental to national security," AFP quoted Najib as saying Nov. 26.

Meanwhile, the king of Malaysia, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam, touched on the themes of Najib’s white paper during a speech Monday inaugurating the first parliamentary session of 2015.

"I welcome the continuous efforts to strengthen security measures and ensure public order, particularly to tackle the threat of terrorists in Sabah and curb the spread of extremist ideology among the people, such as the militant Islamic State (IS),” the king said, referring in part to the Malaysian portion of Borneo island, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

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