Malaysia: Opposition Leader Sues Government Over National Security Law

Fahirul N. Ramli
Kuala Lumpur
160802-MY-abrahim-620.jpg Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (center) arrives at the Federal Court in Putrajaya ahead of a ruling on his sodomy conviction, Feb. 10, 2015.

Jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new security law that gives the prime minister broader powers, his lawyer said.

Ibrahim is suing the government and the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Najib Razak, N. Surendran, an attorney for Anwar, told BenarNews.

Anwar’s legal team filed the lawsuit at the Kuala Lumpur High Court a day after the National Security Council (NSC) Act took effect in Malaysia.

The suit seeks to invalidate the law by arguing that it was passed without the required consent of Malaysia’s king, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, according to Surendran.

“Aug. 1 is a dark day in Malaysian history, when NSC was enforced. Anwar is filing this suit to re-establish democracy in the country,” Surendran said.

Anwar has sued the government at least three times since he was imprisoned in February 2015 on a sodomy charge, the lawyer noted.

Anwar, 68, the leader of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), is serving a five-year term at Sungai Bulok Prison in Selangor state. He has been jailed on multiple occasions.

In 1974, he was imprisoned for 20 months under the country’s former Internal Security Act, which allowed for detention of suspects without trial. Later in his political career, Anwar was criticized for failing to push for repealing the act in his capacity as deputy prime minister in 1993.

A more powerful executive

Apart from the prime minister who serves as chairman, the NSC consists of the deputy prime minister, the ministers of defense, home affairs, communications and multimedia, the chief of the armed forces, the national police chief and the government’s chief secretary.

The law is controversial because, critics say, Najib could use it to crush dissent and silence those who have called for his resignation over corruption allegations linked to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The law gives the executive branch power to declare an emergency without having to go through Malaysia’s king – as guaranteed by its constitution – according to legal experts. It empowers the council to authorize stops, searches and arrests of people, as well as warrantless searches of and seizure of private property, they say.

Under the act, the prime minister is empowered to declare any place a security area for six months at a time, subject to renewal. The NSC may then order the deployment of any security forces or other government personnel to the area in question.

Malaysia’s parliament passed the NSC bill without any amendments in December. The enactment of the law was unusual because the Conference of Rulers – a body of sultans, rajas and governors, which normally grants royal assent to a bill a month after it is presented to the king – never consented to it.

In February, the rulers issued a statement indicating that some of the law’s provisions “needed to be refined.”

‘Back door’ to rights violations

The United Nations and human rights advocacy groups have voiced concerns that Najib could use the new law to abuse his power and trample on free speech in country.

On Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement expressing similar concern.

“Given the Malaysian government’s recent track record of harassing and arresting government critics, the likely abuses under this new law are truly frightening,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia.

“There are serious concerns that this law will be used as a back door to severe rights violations, using government claims that it only seeks to protect its citizens from terror threats.”

Najib and other top officials, however, have defended such measures as necessary because of a threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) and other transnational terrorist groups.

“I can assure Malaysians that the government will continue to put all possible measures in place to protect you. Daesh and its cruel, perverted ideology have no place in Islam, nor in our peaceful, diverse and tolerant country,” Najib said on his website last week, referring to another name for Islamic State.

Since last year Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 222 suspected IS members, according to police statistics.

Hata Wahari contributed to this report.


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