KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers are pushing for amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism bill to limit detention without trial to two weeks, instead of indefinite detention in the original draft.
The opposition MPs proposed to reduce the remand period to 14 days instead of 60 days, and that the accused be charged within or immediately after the remand period ends, failing which the terror suspect must be released immediately.
“We believe that these amendments will provide a fair balance in combatting terrorism and at the same time protect democracy,” Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen from PKR told a press conference in Parliament here.
“I understand that we want to fight terrorism but it cannot be done by compromising democracy. Doing that will only radicalise people further,” he added.
Other proposed amendments are for the arrests to be made only by officers with a rank no lower than a superintendent and that the suspect must be charged in a High Court and not a lower court.
The amended bill, ratified by MPs from all PR component parties, has been submitted and accepted by the Dewan Rakyat Speaker’s office.
They are hoping for the amendments to be discussed during the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) committee stage debate this week.
Wong said that PR also wants the Bill to ensure that suspects detained must be brought to court to be charged within 24 hours of arrest and that only the High Court can decide if the suspect is to be remanded or released.
Tabled in Parliament last Monday, Putrajaya’s proposed new law will allow authorities to detain suspected terrorists without bringing them to court for up to two years, with a Prevention of Terrorism Board (POTB) empowered to renew the detention order for an indeterminate amount of time.
Judicial reviews of such sentences are not permitted, according to the Bill, except for questions on its compliance with procedural matters.
Opposition lawmakers have claimed such provisions mirror that of the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 which was often used to silence political opposition to the establishment.
PAS Serdang MP Hanipa Maidin said PR strongly supports the government’s fight against terrorism, but said it should not be done at the expense of democracy.
He said existing laws like the Specials Offences Act (Special Measures) or Sosma could sufficiently deal with terrorism, noting that Putrajaya had never once showed any proof that the law was ineffective.
“The process of detention under Sosma is already very strong… the government have not provided any evidence so far to show that Sosma has not been effective,” he told the same press conference.
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.
He also insisted in an interview in Mingguan Malaysia recently that POTA is not an attempt by Putrajaya to replace the ISA that permitted detention without trial, saying that the new law will not be used to clamp down differing political views and ideologies.