Malaysia re­vives detention with­out trial with new law


Malaysia re­vived detention with­out trial when law­mak­ers ap­proved an anti-ter­ror law Tues­day that the gov­ern­ment said was needed to fight Is­lamic mil­i­tants, but crit­ics as­sailed as a gi­ant step back­ward for hu­man rights in the coun­try.

The Pre­ven­tion of Ter­ror­ism Act bill 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.

The gov­ern­ment said the mea­sure was needed be­cause dozens of Malaysians have been ar­rested since 2013 for sus­pected links to the Is­lamic State group. Au­thor­i­ties on Sun­day ar­rested 17 peo­ple, in­clud­ing an In­done­sian mil­i­tant, ac­cused of plan­ning to rob banks and attack po­lice sta­tions and army camps to ob­tain weapons.

Crit­ics said the new law was a re­vival of the In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act, which was re­pealed in 2012. New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch called it a “gi­ant step back­wards for hu­man rights” in Malaysia, and said it raised con­cerns that the gov­ern­ment will once again use the law to in­tim­i­date and si­lence vo­cal crit­ics.

“By restor­ing in­def­i­nite detention with­out trial, Malaysia has re-opened a Pan­dora’s Box for po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, abu­sive state ac­tions that many had thought was closed when the abu­sive In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act was re­voked in 2012,” the group’s deputy Asia direc­tor, Phil Robert­son, said in a state­ment.

Home Min­is­ter Zahid Hamidi, how­ever, said the new law was cru­cial to curb the rise of Is­lamic mil­i­tants. “This is a real threat, and pre­ven­tion mea­sures are needed,” he said dur­ing the de­bate.

It will take weeks be­fore the bill be­comes law, as it needs ap­proval from the up­per house and royal as­sent by the king, but those are con­sid­ered for­mal­i­ties.

Na­tional po­lice chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the 17 peo­ple, aged from 14 to 49, were ar­rested dur­ing a se­cret meet­ing Sun­day to plot at­tacks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s big­gest city, and in the ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal of Putrajaya.

The group was plan­ning to kid­nap sev­eral high-pro­file in­di­vid­u­als, rob banks for money, raid po­lice sta­tions and army camps for weapons, and pro­cure more firearms from an­other ter­ror group in a neigh­bor­ing coun­try, Khalid said in a state­ment Tues­day.

The se­nior mem­ber of the cell is a man who was ar­rested in 2001 un­der the for­mer In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Act and has un­der­gone mil­i­tant train­ing in Afghanistan and In­done­sia, Khalid said. An­other key mem­ber is a 38-year-old re­li­gious teacher.

Khalid said both men were in Syria last year for mil­i­tant train­ing and re­turned to Malaysia in De­cem­ber.

“The aim for this new ter­ror group is to form an Is­lamic state in Malaysia,” he said.

Also ar­rested Sun­day were two army per­son­nel, a se­cu­rity guard who has ac­cess to firearms and an In­done­sian mil­i­tant who is skilled in han­dling weapons, Khalid said.

The gov­ern­ment has pro­posed an­other new law, to be de­bated by law­mak­ers this week that would em­power au­thor­i­ties to sus­pend or re­voke the travel doc­u­ments of any cit­i­zens or for­eign­ers be­lieved to be en­gag­ing in or sup­port­ing ter­ror­ist acts. Other pro­pos­als would in­crease penal­ties for ter­ror-re­lated acts.


In this Wed­nes­day, March 25 photo, a Malaysian po­lice spe­cial forces unit aim weapons dur­ing an ex­er­cise against a ter­ror­ist attack at a po­lice train­ing camp in Kuala Lumpur.

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