The Malaysian government on Monday introduced for parliamentary debate two anti-terrorist bills whose purpose, officials say, is to combat a growing domestic threat from the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups.
The introduction of the bills came as Malaysian police announced the uncovering of two IS threats on home soil: a letter that purportedly threatened to kill the Indian spiritual leader Ravi Shankar, who was visiting Penang state over the weekend; and the arrest of two Iraqis in connection with the foiling of an alleged plot by an IS cell to attack the Saudi Arabian and Qatari embassies in Kuala Lumpur.
On the legislative front, the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) is to debate the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) bill and the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Bill – also known as the Foreign Fighters Bill – between April 6 and April 9, the last three days of its current session.
The Foreign Fighters Bill would allow authorities to suspend or revoke passports and travel documents of foreigners arrested on Malaysian soil and who are suspected of engaging in or supporting terrorism, the Associated Press reported.
POTA is particularly controversial because it would allow Malaysian authorities to hold a suspected terrorist for two years without trial.
On Monday, some MPs from the opposition criticized POTA. They said it effectively would revive the Internal Security Act (ISA), which was rescinded in 2012 and contained a similar provision about the indefinite detention of suspects.
Critics warn that the government also could arbitrarily use POTA to jail people who speak out against the government – as was the case, they say, with many people arrested under the old ISA and under the existing Sedition Act.
"There are severe restrictions of civil liberties under POTA. We see this as a threat to the very fragile fundamental liberties that we have in this country," Malaysiakini quoted opposition MP Wong Chen as saying.
“The only difference between ISA and this is that instead of ISA being indefinite from the beginning, this is renewable for two-year-blocks. So this is just another ISA in disguise,” said Raja Bahrin, another lawmaker from the opposition, according to Free Malaysia Today.
The government has denied that it is resurrecting the Internal Security Act through POTA. Officials also have assured the public that the government’s political critics would be immune from arrest under the proposed terrorist law, according to local news reports.
In a Sunday interview with the Star Online, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid said that previous anti-terror-laws were too reactive, and that the emergence of the Islamic State group had “forced us to look into preventive laws.”
“We also need to look at foreign fighters, the fighters fighting outside Malaysia. They want to use Malaysia as their hub, not only to train potential followers but to destroy the good image of Malaysia being a very moderate Islamic country. [Introducing these new laws] shows that the government is committed to show that we are seriously combating the terrorism threat,” Zahid told the Star.
“The details are not worked out yet but I believe that if the foreign fighters are from countries with extradition agreements with us, the best method is to send them back to their country of origin,” Zahid went on to say.
“If there is no extradition agreement, we want an agreement from those countries that detention and rehabilitation should be done in Malaysia.”
If Shankar sets foot…
Meanwhile, Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar said his agency was investigating a report about the threatening letter against Ravi Shankar.
It was addressed to the manager of a hotel in Penang at which the Indian guru was booked to stay, and was sent to the Malaysian chapter of
Shankar’s humanitarian NGO, the Star Online reported.
The letter featured IS’s black flag and a photo of a beheaded person, according to the newspaper.
“If he steps foot in Malaysia, your hotel and venues of his activities will be destroyed and many thousands will die for him. We don’t want Ravi
Shankar to step foot into a Muslim country,” the letter read.
According to the Singapore-based Straits Times, Khalid confirmed the arrests of the two Iraqis in connection with the purported embassy plot.
The two were taken into custody on Thursday after having been under surveillance by intelligence officials since March 10.
“They were planning to attack the embassies on March 31 at the behest of IS,” an unnamed source told The Star, according to the Straits Times.
By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.