KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 ― Malaysia appears “paranoid” after the government introduced new anti-terror laws that are harsher than countries at greater risks of terrorism, lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan has said.
Ambiga said Malaysia’s new Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) does not allow the judiciary to have oversight over suspected terrorists, compared to the laws in the US, UK and Australia that have “far more serious” terror threats.
“So in other words, we have tougher laws than countries that are far more in danger of terrorism. It shows you that we perhaps are paranoid,” the former Malaysian Bar president told a crowd of around 50 people at a forum last night.
Noting that Putrajaya’s common justification for new controversial laws is to safeguard national security, Ambiga argued that offences under the Pota and Sedition Act are already well-covered by the Penal Code.
Arrests of individuals suspected of links to the outlawed terrorist group Islamic State, which Putrajaya cited to back Pota, took place even before this new law came into place, she noted.
Civil rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan said the need to combat terrorism was not being questioned, but rather the lack of sufficient safeguards such as judicial oversight.
George Varughese, the Malaysian Bar’s vice president, said POTA was practically a “reinvention” of the now-abolished Internal Security Act 1960 ― a colonial piece of law intended to combat communism but later used against political opponents of the government.
George said he believed that there is “no guarantee” that Pota would not be used for political oppression like how ISA was used, despite the new anti-terror law’s exclusion of political activities and political beliefs as grounds for detaining an individual without trial.
“We think this is false comfort because the definition of political activities and political beliefs is too narrow under the Act,” he said, noting among other things that it would only involve organisations registered as political parties.
“The only occasion on which legal representation is allowed is when accused’s statement is being recorded. So when do you get the chance to use this defence?” he asked, noting that Pota has no provision stating when terror suspects can use this defence while lawyers are only allowed limited access.
The forum titled “POTA and Sedition Act: Progression or Regression” last night was organised by Mahasiswa Keadilan.
In April, Parliament passed a controversial bill amending the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law that Putrajaya had previously promised to repeal.