Malaysia’s Parliament on Tuesday passed a tough anti-terrorism bill to deal with “extraordinary” threats posed by terror entities such as the Islamic State, a move denounced by opponents as a harsh blow for civil rights.
After 15 hours of heated debate, the parliament passed the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Bill’ without any amendments.
The bill will allow those involved or commissioned to carry out terrorist acts to be detained for years and have their movements restricted.
Members of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition vociferously defended the necessity of preventive measures to deal with “extraordinary” threats posed by terror entities such as the Islamic State.
Opposition lawmakers, however, argued that some provisions in the bill were against human rights and civil liberties.
The decision came hours after authorities arrested 17 people who were planning terror strikes in the Muslim majority country.
Earlier, Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar told reporters that the arrests of the 17 Malaysians, including two who had just returned from Syria, showed that the law was needed and would prevent things from happening rather than wait for things to happen.
Ruling party members said the law had enough provisions to safeguard the rights of everyone.
Opposition member N Surendran questioned the need for a two-year detention period without trial as countries with bigger threats such as the United Kingdom and America had shorter detention periods.
He argued that the existing Security Offences (Special Measures) Act had sufficient detention periods.
“Although POTA states that no person shall be arrested for their political beliefs or activities, it also states that the decision of the Prevention of Terrorism Board cannot be challenged unless it is on procedural matters,” he added.
Several opposition MPs said they planned to table their own version of POTA, omitting the provisions on detention without trial and the anti-terrorism board.
They also proposed that the high court should have the power to decide if a suspect should be remanded.
Opposition lawmakers attempted to push in three proposed amendments to the bill but were rejected.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid gave an assurance that POTA would not be abused and no one who had political differences of differing opinion would be detained under this law.
“This is the transparency of the present government where we allow the freedom of political differences,” he said.
The bill is expected to be passed due to the ruling regime’s majority in parliament.
The terrorism act has heightened worries in Malaysia over a deepening crackdown on civil liberties launched by the government in the wake of a 2013 election setback.
Dozens of government critics have been hit with sedition or other charges after criticising the regime. Meanwhile, the police said that the 17 militants detained by them were planning to create an Islamic State-like regime in the country.
The suspected militants in a bid to achieve their goal had planned to kidnap VIPs and raid banks to fund terror activities, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said.
“We received information that they were also planning to raid several army camps and police stations to boost their weapons cache. The locations identified as the cell’s terror targets were in Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital of Putrajaya,” he said.
Khalid added that among the 17 detained on Sunday were two Armed Forces personnel and an Indonesian militant, believed to be a former member of the Jemaah Islamiah terror group. The latest arrests bring the number of those detained for suspected IS links to 92 since February 2012.