Anti-terror law a step backwards for Malaysia, global rights watchdog says

Human Rights’ Watch Asia director Phil Robertson says it’s a huge step backwards for Malaysia to include the element of detention without trial in the Prevention of Terrorism 2015 Bill tabled yesterday. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Human Rights’ Watch Asia director Phil Robertson says it’s a huge step backwards for Malaysia to include the element of detention without trial in the Prevention of Terrorism 2015 Bill tabled yesterday. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 — Despite pledges by Putrajaya to widen civil liberties here, its newly-tabled anti-terrorism law that prescribes indefinite detention without trial indicates the country is only regressing further in the fight to uphold basic human rights, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

In a statement here, Phil Robertson, the New York-based group’s Asia division deputy director, said it was a huge step backwards for Malaysia to include the element of detention without trial in the Prevention of Terrorism 2015 Bill tabled yesterday.

“Any return to indefinite detention without trial is a huge step backwards for human rights in Malaysia, whether in the guise of combating ‘terrorism’ or for any other reason.

“Human Rights Watch strongly opposes this move which sadly demonstrates just how far and fast Malaysia is sliding backwards in terms of respect for basic liberties,” Robertson said.

Detention without trial was first removed in 2012 when the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 was repealed but was included again in its replacement law, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

Robertson urged foreign governments to be “alarmed” and to take immediate action to stop Malaysia from trampling on civil rights, specifically citing the crackdown on the public’s right to free expression and to protests.

The Prevention of Terrorism 2015 Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday states that the courts may only review procedural matters and that the detention orders for terror suspects may be extended from “time to time for further periods” of not more than two years at a time, with no time limit stated.

The Bill states that the Prevention of Terrorism Board, which shall comprise between three and six members appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is empowered to order that terror suspects be detained without trial for two years under Section 13(1), if the board is satisfied with the Inquiry Officer’s report that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the suspect is engaged in terrorism or supports terrorist acts involving listed terrorist organisations in a foreign country.

The Bill states that no one may be arrested or detained “solely” for their “political belief or political activity”, defined as expressing opinions or acting in a political party registered under the Societies Act 1966, as well as expressing opinions or taking actions against the Malaysian government.

Under Section 13(3), suspects may also be placed under restriction by the police for five years if the Board finds it unnecessary to detain them, with the restriction order extendible from time to time for not more than two years at a time while no time limit is stated.

Electronic monitoring devices will also be attached to those placed under restriction that will be required to reside “within the limits of any state, district, mukim, town or village” specified in the restriction order.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said earlier this month that the Prevention of Terrorism Act will not be misused and that the law is needed to curb militant activities in the country.

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