Security law debuts amid 1MDB scandal
new security legislation came into force yesterday in Malaysia, with critics saying the “draconian” law threatens democracy and could be used against opponents of the scandal-tainted prime minister.
The National Security Council Act was pushed through parliament in December by the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has faced calls to resign for more than a year over a huge alleged corruption scandal.
The legislation gives the government power to declare virtual martial law in areas deemed to be under “security threat”.
Critics accused Mr Najib and his government of enacting the law, and other tough recent legislation, to ward off political and legal challenges.
“The law will definitely put fear in people planning to participate in street protests,” said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a thinktank.
“The public perception in terms of the timing of the draconian law is that Najib wants the law in order to stay in office.”
The legislation allows a National Security Council headed by the prime minister to suspend civil liberties in designated “security areas”, giving security forces sweeping powers of search, seizure and arrest.
Mr Najib has defended the law as necessary to combat terrorism, but its passage came amid the ongoing furore over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state investment fund he founded and oversaw.
The corruption scandal swirling around Mr Najib has spawned a crossparty alliance, including even members of his own ruling party, demanding he be removed and investigated.
Mr Najib and investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) deny wrongdoing.
Amnesty International said the National Security Council Act “empowers the Malaysian authorities to trample over human rights and act with impunity”.
“There is good reason to fear that the act will be yet another tool in the hands of the government to crack down on peaceful protests under the guise of national security,” said Josef Benedict, its deputy director for South East Asia and the Pacific, in a statement.
Authorities in several countries are investigating allegations that 1MDB was looted over several years.
Mr Najib has stifled domestic pressure by cracking down on critics within his ruling party, scuttling domestic probes, and arresting whistle-blowers and journalists.
The United Nations’ human rights agency and other rights organisations have pilloried the National Security Council Act as a potentially frightening step backwards.
“We are gravely concerned that ... the act may encourage human rights violations,” Laurent Meillan, acting head of the UN Human Rights Office
for Southeast Asia, said in a statement last week.
Last month, the United States Justice Department launched a move to seize more than US$1 billion in assets which it says were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB, including by a person identified only as “Malaysian Official 1”– a reference to Mr Najib, according to media reports.
The US move has heightened expectations of further anti-Najib protests in Malaysia, but there are concerns the security law could be used to prevent them.
Last August, tens of thousands of people paralysed the capital here demanding he stand down. –
Najib Razak shows of no signs of leaving the prime minister’s office despite being linked to a multi-billion-dollar scandal.