Malaysia’s government Monday proposed two new laws that would reintroduce indefinite detention without trial and allow the seizure of passports of anyone suspected of supporting terror acts in an attempt to curb militant activities.
The government late last year said new measures were needed after arresting some 100 Malaysians suspected of supporting the Islamic State militant group. More than 60 Malaysians were believed to have joined the war in Syria and Iraq, as well as another 10 who have been killed.
Critics slammed the laws as a revival of a controversial security law that was repealed in 2012 and warned they could severely curtail civil liberties.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act bill, tabled in Parliament on Monday, would allow authorities to detain suspects indefinitely without trial and the decision cannot be challenged in court. The bill stresses that no one shall be detained solely for their political beliefs or activity.
A second bill, the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries, empowers authorities to suspend or revoke the travel documents or any citizens or foreigners believed to be engaging in or supporting terrorist acts.
The government made no comment on the proposed laws. Local media quoted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying earlier this month that the bills were aimed at curbing terrorism and preventing Malaysia from becoming a transit point for foreign terrorists.
Other proposals would increase penalties for terror-related acts, including up to 30 years in prison for those found receiving training or instruction, travelling to or from Malaysia to commit terrorism in a foreign country, and the building of “conveyance” for use in terrorist acts.
Possession of items associated with terrorism can also lead to seven years in jail, and those found present at a terror training venue could be sent behind bars for 10 years.
The bills are expected to be debated and approved by Parliament early next month before they become law.
Critics are worried that the new laws could curtail fundamental rights and be misused to unfairly punish individuals. They said the Prevention of Terrorism Act bill was similar to the Internal Security Act, abolished in 2012.
The ISA was enacted in 1960 to give the government power to prevent national security threats following a communist insurgency, but over the decades political opponents and government critics occasionally have been held for months without trial.
“I find that it is no different between the ISA and (the new bill). Like old wine in a new bottle,” said lawmaker Wong Chen.
Legal rights group Lawyers for Liberty said the reintroduction of “oppressive and outdated preventive laws” will not resolve the danger of militancy. It warned that the proposed laws allow for arbitrary arrest and detention by police, and leave detainees at the mercy of the authorities.