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Revisions to Controversial Security Laws Pending, Malaysian Official Says

Hadi Azmi
Putrajaya, Malaysia
2019-10-03
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A Malaysian Lawyer holds a sign outside parliament during a rally calling on lawmakers to repeal the Sedition Act, in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 16, 2014.
A Malaysian Lawyer holds a sign outside parliament during a rally calling on lawmakers to repeal the Sedition Act, in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 16, 2014.
AFP

Malaysian officials unveiled a new “security and public order” policy on Thursday but said the government needed more time to finalize changes to controversial security laws it had earlier promised to repeal.

In a speech at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said nations were grappling with challenges ranging from cross-border crime to piracy, smuggling, money-laundering and “ideological threats contrary to the religion, culture and legislation of the State.”

“To address these threats, a holistic policy is needed, and this includes having to form strategic partnerships at a global level,” he said. “This is especially necessary in the face of complex security threats that are difficult to handle in conventional ways.”

The policy, which was distributed to journalists, outlined security priorities and challenges without going into detail on how they would be addressed.

In his speech, Mahathir said security agencies should change from traditional to technology-based approaches, such as use of artificial intelligence, drones, automation, cloud computing and the internet, to reduce costs and resource use while improving efficiency.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the new policy was a continuity of old policy, with improvements.

Asked by reporters what security laws would be amended in the next sitting of parliament, beginning Oct. 15, he said the government was not prepared to submit amendments to the controversial Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, better known as SOSMA.

“The latest law that we are looking into is the preventive law SOSMA, but we are not done with it yet. We have yet to engage with many parties or get into the suggestions. I am not sure if we can make it or not to bring it to this parliament session,” Muhyiddin said.

Ahead of the May 2018 general election, Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition had promised to repeal controversial security laws and provisions, including SOSMA, the colonial-era Sedition Act, and the 2015 Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), among others.

The laws authorize detention of suspects up to 28 days (SOSMA) or two years (POTA) without a warrant, while the Sedition Act has been used against critics of Malaysia’s leaders, including political cartoonist Zunar and activist Maria Chin Abdullah.

In an interview with BenarNews in New York last week, Mahathir said that when making those pledges during the campaign season, “we didn’t have full information about the situation.”

“Police have the opinion that these laws, if they are not used for political purposes, are still useful,” he said, adding that instead of repealing, “we are revising them.”

In October 2018, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said the cabinet had agreed on a moratorium on use of the Sedition Act, pending its appeal.

But the moratorium was lifted in November 2018 after rioting near a Hindu temple outside Kuala Lumpur raised fears of inter-religious violence in the Muslim majority country.

In January, three people were arrested under the Sedition Act for allegedly posting insulting remarks about the former king, Sultan Muhammad V, after his surprise abdication.

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