Critics whipping up fears of new security powers, says Najib

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) and national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar attend the opening session of the 36th Asean Chiefs of Police Conference in Putrajaya.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) and national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar attend the opening session of the 36th Asean Chiefs of Police Conference in Putrajaya.PHOTO: AFP

PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said that the new security powers obtained by the government from Monday have been "deliberately misinterpreted" by his critics to cause fear among the public.

He said the National Security Council (NSC) Act is not the same as the government having powers to declare a national emergency, as such powers remain with the Malaysian King. He also said the Malaysian Parliament will have oversight of any security area declared.

"We were criticised for passing these laws, including by some who fearmongered for political reasons," the Premier said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that such laws were put in place to deal with possible security threats posed by terrorists.

Datuk Seri Najib was responding to concerns raised by opposition parties as well as civil rights groups that the NSC will allow him to designate any area as a "security area", where he can deploy forces to search any individual, vehicle or premises without a warrant.

Officials may also disallow protests in a "security area".

The new powers worry critics as tensions flared anew following last week's revelation by the United States Justice Department that it planned to seize US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in assets allegedly siphoned from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund that Mr Najib oversaw.

His critics are planning a series of street protests and are concerned that the new powers will be used against them.

Mr Najib said the NSC, along with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, the Special Measures against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, will help protect Malaysians.

"We are far from immune in Malaysia," he said, referring to last month's first attack in the country by militants with allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group. In the June 28 incident, two militants on a motorcycle threw a grenade into a nightspot in Puchong, Selangor.

"My government will never apologise for placing the safety and security of the Malaysian people first. These laws are necessary, and other countries have since followed our lead," he said in the statement.

"Now is the time for us to unite and play an even greater part alongside the world community in the fight against terrorism," he added.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Critics whipping up fears of new security powers, says Najib'. Print Edition | Subscribe