Faced with a growing threat of terrorism, Malaysia has proposed tough new laws that could give the authorities the power to jail would-be terrorists for up to 30 years. Those whom they want to monitor can be forced to wear electronic tags.
The Bills for the new laws, tabled by Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, also arm the authorities with the power to detain suspects indefinitely, without trial. But, to assure critics that the laws will not be abused, it was stated that "no person shall be arrested and detained... solely for his political belief or political activity".
The move comes as the Muslim-majority country struggles to contain Islamic militancy, with 61 Malaysians having travelled to the Middle East last year to join terror groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Another 68 were nabbed over the past two years, either because they were planning to join militant groups, or because they were encouraging others to do so.
One of the new laws, the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act, will allow the authorities to revoke or seize the passport of any citizen or foreigner travelling into or out of Malaysia to commit or support a terrorist act. Anyone who refuses to comply can be jailed for up to two years.
Under the second law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a Prevention of Terrorism Board will have the power to detain people for up to two years or pass restriction orders on them for up to five years, which can be renewed indefinitely. There will be no judicial review in any court of the board's decision, except to make sure that the law has been complied with.
People placed under a restriction order will have to wear electronic tags to monitor their movements. This is to ensure that they do not stray into "prohibited areas".
Meanwhile, a register will be set up, containing the fingerprints and photographs of those who are detained or placed under restriction. If they are found to be in constant contact with one another, they may be imprisoned for five to 15 years. A person on the register may also be liable to double the jail term or whipping, if convicted of any crime.
The new laws have been under scrutiny since they were mooted last November. Critics worried that letting the authorities detain people without trial could see a return to the days when the Internal Security Act (ISA) - repealed in 2012 - was allegedly abused to stifle dissent.
"The only difference from the ISA is that (this detention) is renewable in two-year blocks. It is ISA in disguise," opposition lawmaker Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad told reporters yesterday. His colleague Wong Chen called the new laws a "threat to already-fragile fundamental liberties in this country".
Amendments were proposed to five laws to stiffen the punishment for acts of terror.
Anyone who travels in or out of Malaysia to commit terrorism in a foreign country could find himself staring at 30 years in jail.
And if a person is even present at a terror training camp, it could spell 10 years behind bars.
The seven Bills will be debated from April 6 to 9.
- SEE WORLD