New terror laws could backfire, warns lawyer

New laws to combat terrorist threats are unnecessary and risk driving underground people with views that may not align with the government’s, a senior lawyer warned

October 22, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 — New laws to combat terrorist threats are unnecessary and risk driving underground people with views that may not align with the government’s, a senior lawyer warned, as Malaysia considers a new law to deal with terrorism and national security.

Bar Council human rights committee chairman Andrew Khoo said the solution lies in social change and greater inclusivity, rather than a legalistic approach.

“We, in Malaysia, need to be careful of the risk of driving people to extremism… for example, we have outlawed Shiah Islam in Malaysia under a fatwa in 1996. Is this the way we deal with people who disagree with us?” he told Malay Mail Online in a phone interview.

“If we simply respond by banning or prohibiting ideas which we do not like, differences in religious philosophy that we don’t share, do we not drive people underground? Do we not turn them into potential targets for terrorism?

“What we are telling them is; ‘your views have no place in our society’. So effectively you create a rich field, ripe for harvest by international terror groups,” he added.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Sunday revealed plans to push for a new anti-terror law to address claims that existing legislation, including the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) and the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) 1959, are inadequate to prevent Malaysians going abroad to be part of terrorist groups including Islamic State (IS).

He echoed the position taken by former inspector-general of police Tan Sri Musa Hassan, who was quoted by Malay daily Utusan Malaysia last Friday as saying that the authorities are hampered by a long evidence-gathering process before they can act on suspected terrorists, especially those recruited overseas.

Khoo argued that the authorities’ fixation on “easy ways” to arrest and detain suspects without much judicial oversight does not help the task of stopping extremism from taking root in Malaysia.

He said the onus is on the government to live up to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s call for inclusiveness in his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, calling for more “inclusive politics” as a solution to the rise of extremist groups such as the IS.

“We have to allow more space for views to be more inclusive, because if we exclude people, we drive them to extremism. We should walk the talk. We should actually do what Prime Minister Najib said to the world in New York,” Khoo said.

Human rights lawyer New Sin Yew, said existing laws give the authorities more than enough power to deal with the matter.

While the laws clearly do not have the near-all-encompassing power of the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA) — which afforded the authorities a quick option to detain suspects for up to two years without judicial review — New stressed that current laws are more than adequate to deal with a threat to national security.

Even without the ISA, the authorities can still detain suspects without needing judicial oversight for a limited time and tap into their communications, among a host of many other powers that are readily available to law enforcers, New added.

Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan said Putrajaya must convince the public that the country needs a new law, especially since legislation such as Sosma allows a much more relaxed approach in the type of evidence that will be needed to stop suspected terrorists.

“No one is condoning terrorism and no one is saying give terrorists free reign, but we need to ask why they are thinking of introducing new legislation. What are the problems? What hampers efforts to counter terrorism?

“They need to justify it, especially since people are saying there is too much power in Sosma and in the amendments to the recent Evidence Act and the CPC (Criminal Procedure Code)… these are major powers and advantages given to the authorities, so why is it we need more?” he said