Malaysia passes anti-terror law to curb Islamic militants

Malaysia passes anti-terror law to curb Islamic militants


Malaysia revived detention without trial when lawmakers approved an anti-terror law in April 2015 that the government said was needed to fight Islamic militants.

The government said in late 2014 that new measures were needed after the arrest of 100 Malaysians suspected of supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group. More than 60 Malaysians were believed to have joined the war in Syria and Iraq, as well as another 10 who had been killed.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed by Parliament’s lower house in the wee hours of the morning after hours of debate, with 79 votes in favor and 60 against. The law allows authorities to detain suspects indefinitely without trial, with no court challenges permitted.

Critics slammed the legislation as a revival of a controversial security law that was repealed in 2012, and they warned the laws could severely curtail civil liberties.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which Parliament began considering in March 2015, stresses that people cannot be detained solely for their political beliefs or activities.

A second act, the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries, empowers authorities to suspend or revoke the travel documents of any citizens or foreigners believed to be engaging in or supporting terrorist acts.

Local media quoted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying in March 2015 that the two bills were aimed at curbing terrorism and preventing Malaysia from becoming a transit point for foreign terrorists.

Other parts of the legislation call for increased penalties for terror-related acts, including up to 30 years in prison for those found receiving training or instruction, traveling to or from Malaysia to commit terrorism in a foreign country and the building of “conveyance” for use in terrorist acts.

Possession of items associated with terrorism could also lead to seven years in jail, and those found present at a terror training venue could be sent behind bars for 10 years.

Critics are worried that the new laws could curtail fundamental rights and be misused to unfairly punish individuals. They said the Prevention of Terrorism Act act was similar to the Internal Security Act (ISA), abolished in 2012.

The ISA was enacted in 1960 after a communist insurgency to give the government power to prevent national security threats. Over the decades, however, political opponents and government critics occasionally have been held for months without trial. “I find that it is no different between the ISA and [the new bill]. Like old wine in a new bottle,” said lawmaker Wong Chen.

Legal rights group Lawyers for Liberty said the reintroduction of “oppressive and outdated preventive laws” will not resolve the danger of militancy. The group warned that the laws allow for arbitrary arrest and detention by police and leave detainees at the mercy of the authorities.