Newspaper article International New York Times

Malaysian Security Bill Invites Abuses, Rights Groups Say

Newspaper article International New York Times

Malaysian Security Bill Invites Abuses, Rights Groups Say

Article excerpt

The proposal in Parliament, including changes to police privileges, comes after growing complaints about assaults on civil liberties in Malaysia.

Parliament in Malaysia was expected to vote on Thursday on a national security bill introduced two days earlier that has drawn criticism from opposition politicians and rights advocates who say its widespread powers could easily be abused by the government.

The proposed legislation allows for the establishment of security areas where restraints on police powers would be suspended and the authorities would have the ability to conduct arrests, searches and seizures without warrants.

The bill would also permit the destruction of unoccupied structures if they were deemed to pose a threat and allow investigators to dispense with formal inquests into killings by the police or armed forces in designated security areas.

The legislation is "quite clearly a tool for repression," Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement.

"While touted as a law to protect national security, the law provides expansive powers that could fundamentally threaten human rights and democratic rule," he added.

The proposed legislation comes after growing complaints about assaults on civil liberties in Malaysia, including the use of sedition laws to arrest government critics. In April, the government reintroduced the power to detain terrorism suspects without trial, raising concerns about potential abuse.

Although Prime Minister Najib Razak said in October that his government would introduce a bill outlining the powers of the Malaysian National Security Council, critics said the content of the legislation on Tuesday was unexpected.

"It just came out of the blue, and suddenly there is a massive national security bill," said Eric Paulsen, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, a Malaysian rights advocacy group. "It is shocking and a huge surprise."

Mr. Najib's coalition has a majority in Parliament, and Thursday was the last day of the current legislative session.

Mr. Najib has been under pressure at home from the opposition and some members of his party, the United Malays National Organization, over issues like the crackdown on dissent and a political scandal involving an indebted government fund. …

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