KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The United Nations' human rights body said on Friday (July 29)it was "gravely concerned" by a new Malaysian security law coming into force next week that grants the government extraordinary emergency powers.
"We are gravely concerned that... the act may encourage human rights violations," Mr Laurent Meillan, acting head of the UN Human Rights Office for South-east Asia, said in a statement. He also expressed concern that the act could lead to "unjust restrictions" on free speech and assembly.
"We call on the government to revise the act to bring it in line with international human rights norms and standards," he said.
The government rammed the National Security Council Act through Parliament last December, giving it powers to declare virtual martial law in areas of the country determined to be under security threat.
But critics of Prime Minister Najib Razak say he enacted the law as ammunition against any moves to oust him over a huge financial scandal.
The law, which comes into force next Monday (Aug 1), allows a National Security Council headed by the prime minister to suspend civil liberties in certain areas, giving government forces sweeping powers of search, seizure and arrest.
The authorities in several countries are investigating allegations that investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, which Datuk Seri Najib founded and oversaw, was looted on a massive scandal over several years.
Mr Najib has stifled domestic pressure by cracking down on critics within his ruling party, scuttling investigations, and arresting whistleblowers and journalists.
But international pressure has risen after the US Justice Department last week launched moves to seize more than US$1 billion in assets it says were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB.
The detailed Justice Department filings included accusations that a high-ranking Malaysian government official, clearly referring to Nr Najib, conspired in the massive theft along with associates of the premier, including his stepson.
Mr Najib and 1MDB deny wrongdoing.
Mr Najib's ruling party has tightly controlled Malaysia since 1957 but increasingly faces accusations of massive corruption and repression.
Mr Najib on Thursday defended the security law, saying it was needed to prevent terrorism in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
"My government will never apologise for placing the safety and security of the Malaysian people first," he said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch has called the act "truly frightening" and "a tool for repression".
Mr Najib came into office in 2009 pledging an end to ruling-party corruption and authoritarianism, but reversed course following a 2013 election setback and the financial scandal.