Malaysian King urges people to reject terror groups such as ISIS

He makes the call as government prepares new anti-terrorism law

Malaysia's King has called on the people to reject terror groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), even as the government readies a new anti-terrorism law to give the authorities wide-ranging preventive powers.

But while Malaysia struggles to curb recruitment by Islamic militant outfits, critics are concerned that provisions allowing for detention without trial in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) will be abused to stifle political dissent.

Media reports said Pota would require a person detained under the law but released with "restricted residence" to wear an electronic monitoring device.

Decisions on detention would be made by an advisory board to ensure they are made independently, Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said earlier this month.

The King, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, said yesterday he welcomed efforts to strengthen security to combat the insurgency that has plagued Sabah, and to curb extremism "such as the militant activities of the Islamic State", referring to ISIS.

"We appeal to the people to be wary of this group's propaganda... so that they will not fall prey to this doctrine that misconstrues the concept of jihad," he said in a speech to mark the opening of the current session of Parliament.

He also mentioned plans to enact anti-terrorism laws, which Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has repeatedly defended as crucial to stem growing recruitment by terror groups.

Datuk Seri Zahid told reporters after the royal address that "we need the Pota because other laws are punitive; this is preventive".

"As the government, we have to protect the people. All opposition MPs need to accept and support this new law because it is a preventive law," he said.

The minister was reported last week as saying the law allowed for detention without trial for two years, and that the detention could be extended indefinitely. But he denied it was a repackaging of the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Critics have likened the new law to the ISA, repealed in 2012 as part of Prime Minister Najib Razak's liberal reforms. The government had been accused of using it to stifle political dissent.

Opposition lawmaker N. Surendran said yesterday that Pota "will have a wide impact on civil liberties and law enforcement powers".

The government first proposed a new anti-terror law after tabling a White Paper in Parliament last November, outlining data and its position on the ISIS threat.

While at least 68 suspects were caught in the past two years, the number of Malaysians who went to Syria rose from 30 in the first half of last year to 61 in the second half. At least five were killed, the paper said, while five returned to Malaysia, sparking fears that they would recruit aggressively.

The Star yesterday quoted a Malaysian militant in Syria as saying he would not return home unless an Islamic party was in government.

shannont@sph.com.sg