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Malaysia: Anti-Terrorism Law Proposed

(Dec. 19, 2014) On November 26, 2014, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, urged the country’s parliament to adopt stronger legal safeguards against terrorism. In particular, he expressed concern about Malaysian citizens returning home with extremist views after having fought beside Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq, noting that 39 citizens had already joined IS and that its radical ideology should not be allowed to spread. (Addison Morris, Malaysia PM Proposes Anti-Terrorism Law, PAPER CHASE (Nov. 26, 2014); Teks Ucapan Pembentangan Kertas Putih Ke Arah Menangani Ancaman Kumpulan Islamic State [Speech on Presentation of White Paper to Address the Threat of the Islamic State], (Nov. 26, 2014), Office of the Prime Minister website.)

White Paper on Combating IS Threat

Also on November 26, the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) of Malaysia’s Parliament unanimously approved the government white paper tabled by the Prime Minister, entitled “Toward Combating the Threat of Islamic State.” (Proposed Malaysian Anti-Terrorism Act Indicates Precautionary Risk-Mitigation Measure Rather Than Increase of Domestic Militant Activity, IHS JANE’S INTELLIGENCE REVIEW (JANE’S) (Dec. 2, 2014); Himanshu Bhatt, Putrajaya’s Planned Anti-Terrorism Law May Reintroduce ISA, Says Bar Council, MALAYSIAN INSIDER (Dec. 15, 2014).)

The white paper points out the need to combat not only the threat posed by the IS but also “the alleged involvement of Malaysian jihadists within the group.” (JANE’S, supra.) It also calls for a specific anti-terrorism law to be adopted and for the current relevant laws, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Crime Act, and the Penal Code, to be reinforced. (Bhatt, supra; Act 747, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012; Act 297, Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (as at Aug. 1, 2014); Act 574, Penal Code (incorporating all amendments up to Jan. 1, 2006) (all three laws from LAWS OF MALAYSIA); see also Mickey Spiegel, Smoke and Mirrors: Malaysia’s “New” Internal Security Act, ASIA PACIFIC BULLETIN, No. 167 (June 14, 2012).)

The motion debated by the House of Representatives on approving the white paper recognized the need for the House to be briefed on the threat to national security posed by radical Islamic groups like the IS and also the need to cooperate with the United Nations in efforts to address militant Islamic groups’ threats to the state. (Kertas Putih “Ke Arah Menangani Ancaman Kumpulan Islamic State” [White Paper “Towards Combating the Threat of Islamic State”] (Nov. 26, 2014), Parliament of Malaysia website (scroll down to page 28).)

Hints of Draft Act’s Content

Based on the Prime Minister’s remarks, the government’s proposed anti-terrorist legislation includes provisions on the rehabilitation of returned militants “who express regret for joining IS.” (Morris, supra.) Moreover, during the House debate on the white paper, Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated that the Act “would contain strong preventive measures” but “that this did not amount to a return of the Internal Security Act (ISA) … .” (JANE’S, supra.) The ISA, which permitted detention without charge for an indefinite period, was abolished in 2011 and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, also known as the SOSMA Act. The draft Anti-Terrorist Act is to be tabled at the next session of Parliament, in March 2015. (Id.)

Reactions to Proposal for New Anti-Terrorist Act

In the view of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, the government’s proposal for a new Anti-Terrorism Act is being made “despite scant evidence of increased risk of attacks on Malaysian soil in the short term.” Nevertheless, the fact that the proposed Act enjoys cross-party support in the parliament “means that it is highly likely to be passed.” Jane’s also posits that while the Act “is likely to be tougher than the current anti-terrorism law … [it] is unlikely to be as harsh as the former Internal Security Act … .” (Id.)

The President of Malaysia’s Bar Council, Christopher Leong, also expressed strong reservations about the proposed new legislation. He stated, “[w]hile the bill for the proposed anti-terrorism law and the amendments to the existing laws have yet to be revealed, it is of concern that the contemplated new law and the amendments may expand the discretionary power of the authorities and permit detention without trial.” (Bhatt, supra.)