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Saturday, 4 April 2015

Despite provision, lawyers say no guarantee anti-terror law won’t see dissenters cuffed

Friday, 03 April 2015 11:09am
Image©Malay Mail (Used by permission)

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 ― Several lawyers have expressed doubt that dissidents will not be targeted under the new anti-terror law tabled in Parliament on Monday, saying the provision preventing the arrest is too vaguely defined.

Besides no avenue for a judicial review on indefinite detentions, the lawyers also expressed their concern over the Prevention of Terrorism Board that oversees the detention, pointing out that it has no oversight to curb abuse.

“The thing about political belief is that it is so vague and the decision whether one is acting on political belief can be quite arbitrary,” civil liberties lawyer New Sin Yew told Malay Mail Online in a text message when contacted.

“Such a vague definition will surely be open to abuse… The definition of political activities or beliefs is too vague and has a chilling effect on legitimate political dissent.”

The Prevention of Terrorism 2015 Bill that was tabled in Parliament on Monday prohibits judicial reviews of the grounds of orders for detention without trial, which can be extended indefinitely.

Section 4(3) of the Bill also states that no one can be arrested or detained “solely” for their “political belief or political activity”.

The phrase was defined as expressing opinions or acting in a political party registered under the Societies Act 1966, as well as expressing opinions or taking actions against the Malaysian government.

“Going by the authorities' track record, we certainly can’t take their word at face value ― just look at the recent mass arrest & detention of opposition MPs and activists on exaggerated charges,” added Eric Paulsen of rights group Lawyers for Liberty.

“Going back further, detention without trial has always involved politicians and activists detained for their political views ― from leftist, communists in the early days to Ops Lalang to more recently Hindraf and Reformasi activists.”

“We are not questioning the need to combat terrorism. But safeguards must be put in place to ensure that it is not abused,” civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan said on his Twitter account @syahredzan.

“Ousting jurisdiction of the Courts via ouster clause takes away a very important safeguard,” he added.

New explained that with the ouster clause, the decision of the Board cannot be questioned in court except on procedural grounds, and therefore the court cannot question whether the detention of a person is indeed necessary for the prevention of terrorism or prejudicial to national security.

“This opens it to abuse. If the Board were to be truly accountable, there must be judicial oversight over decisions made by the Board,” added New.

“The Prevention of Terrorism Board is essentially a secret tribunal, a Kafkaesque underworld where a suspect would only have the vaguest idea what are the charges and evidence against him,” Paulsen said.

“It is certainly no substitute for open justice, a court of law with well established rules of evidence and procedure”.

In an executive media briefing yesterday, Bukit Aman’s counter-terrorism director Datuk Ayub Khan Mydin said the authorities need stronger laws to deal with the global rise of Islamist militancy, voicing his support of the government’s proposed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) currently being debated in Parliament.

“There is no country in world that can 100 per cent guarantee to be free from the IS threat, including Malaysia,” he told reporters, referring to the Islamic State terror group that originated in the Middle East but has been infecting nations from Europe to Australia.

To date, there are an estimated 63 Malaysians in Syria fighting with the IS.

On top of that, as many as 240 Malaysians have been identified and were arrested from 2001 to 2009 for links to Jemaah Islamiyah, a group with an extensive network in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Southern Philippines that has professed support for the IS.

Last week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak gave his assurance that the government’s decision to introduce POTA, which allows for preventive detention, will not be used on politicians as claimed by critics.

Despite that, opposition lawmakers argued that the POTA is just a repackaging of the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA), especially the proposed law’s prohibition of judicial reviews over the grounds of orders for the indefinite detention without trial.

Repealed in 2012, the ISA had been enacted in 1960 specifically to deal with the Communist insurgency then, but was later used on Malaysians and foreigners of all walks, particularly opposition lawmakers.

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