April 6, 2015 – Malaysian parliamentarians are debating new anti-terrorism legislation as authorities continue to arrest suspected militants by the dozens. In the latest crackdown, 17 people were detained after they were suspected of planning acts of terror in the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Cases like this have pushed the government to strengthen and introduce new legislation to counter terrorism – including the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar said: “Right from the very beginning, we knew the law is necessary and very important to protect the nation against all these IS (Islamic State) and extremists.”
But not everyone agrees with the Home Ministry. Malaysia’s Bar Council has slammed the Bill as “repugnant to the principles of natural justice” – with provisions that allow for detention without trial for up to two years.
Opposition MPs are also on edge. They fear the Bill if legislated will be used against them, despite a clause that excludes political belief or activity as grounds for detention. They are proposing amendments to the Bill that they say will balance the law’s objectives with democratic principles.
Hanipa Maidin, Sepang MP from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said: “We categorically condemn any form of terrorism but at the same time, anybody who is accused of terrorism must be accorded the right to a fair hearing, a fair trial.”
Wong Chen, Kelana Jaya MP from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, said: “Pre-trial detention (of up to 14 days) is used in both Australia and UK. This is the standard. We think Malaysia should also follow Commonwealth standards.”
But the Malaysian government insists preventive detention is a necessary measure to eliminate domestic terror threats. Wan Junaidi Wan Jaafar said: “The preventive measure is needed to stop the thing from happening. So if the amendment that is submitted stops that part of the law, then perhaps the Government will have to think twice. But if it is something less substantive, then perhaps we can think about it.”
The Prevention of Terrorism Bill is still being debated in the House of Representatives. But voting is expected soon as this Parliament session is due to wrap up on Thursday.