Malaysia: Amended security law a huge step backwards, says Human Rights Watch

Malaysia is taking a “huge step backwards” on human rights by returning to laws that allow detention without trial, said global rights advocate Human Rights Watch.

Its deputy Asia director Phil Robertson insisted that the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) would only serve to infringe on the people’s liberty without serving its stated purpose of decreasing crime.

“The Malaysian government should immediately scrap proposed amendments to a law that would reinstate detention without trial for people the authorities believe have committed two or more serious offenses,” Robertson said in a statement issued before the amended PCA was passed in Parliament early this morning.

The amendments were passed after a voice vote, with more “ayes” from the Barisan Nasional parliamentarians to drown “nays” from their Pakatan Rakyat counterparts.

The amendments are on detention without trial, restrictions on judial reviews, secrecy provisions and recital of Article 149 in the preamble, which the opposition claims is inconsistent with basic human rights guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.

The bill was passed after minor changes were made, including adding two more members to the initial three-man Prevention of Crime Board, to whom reports on detainees will be submitted.

The opposition has in the run-up to the bill’s passing repeatedly warned that the changes were similar to the repealed Internal Security Act (ISA), which allowed detention without trial.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh had said the new contents were “no better” than the ISA while DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang described the amendments as regressive and “an obnoxious piece of legislation”.

Robertson meanwhile expressed concern that the Board’s operations and decisions would be kept from public view to protect its members.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s decision to “jam the law through parliament” could backfire on the nation’s global reputation, and recalled Najib’s pledge in September 2011 to make Malaysia a “functional and inclusive democracy, where peace and public order are safeguarded in line with the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights become a reality”.

“Responses to crime require a rights-sensitive approach entirely absent from this legislation,” Robertson added.

The amendments to the PCA came after a spate of violent crimes involving firearms, which police blamed on ex-detainees under the now-repealed ISA and Emergency Ordinance.

Currently, the PCA allows the detention of suspects up to 71 days, during which period they should be produced in court at certain stages. The proposed amendments exclude the provision of judicial review, except if it is on procedural measures.