UN rights chief slams Malaysia's proposed changes to sedition law

GENEVA (AFP) - Malaysia's new anti-terrorism law and planned tightening of an already criticised sedition law seriously threaten freedom of expression in the country, the United Nations human rights chief warned Thursday.

Malaysia's parliament on Tuesday passed a tough anti-terrorism law meant to nip emerging signs of Islamic militancy in the bud, and received a proposed amendment to the country's Sedition Act.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the government to withdraw the proposed changes to the sedition law, which will extend the maximum jail term to 20 years from the current three years and allow authorities to deny a suspect bail and seize their travel documents.

"It's very disappointing that the Malaysian government is now proposing to make a bad law worse," he said in a statement.

The suggested changes to the law "are particularly worrying given that the Sedition Act has been applied in many instances to curb the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression in Malaysia," Mr Zeid said.

He pointed out that the existing law had already been used to arrest people for "merely tweeting their criticism of government policies and judicial decisions."

Since the beginning of 2014, at least 78 people have been investigated or charged in Malaysia under the existing law - nearly half of them in the past three months.

Mr Zeid also expressed concern at the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.

The law allows authorities to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial, and grants "sweeping powers to law enforcement authorities without sufficient safeguards to prevent abuses," his office said in the statement.

The law also does not do enough to ensure accountability for violations of human rights, it said.

"Silencing dissent does not nurture social stability, but an open democratic space does," Mr Zeid said.

"Curtailing the legitimate exercise of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism has been shown time and again to backfire and to only lead to festering discontent and a strong sense of injustice," he added.

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