Malaysia: Government must withdraw new Security Bill, repeal the ISA immediately

(12 April 2012, Bangkok) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) renewed its calls for the immediate repeal of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA), and urged the Malaysian government to withdraw the new Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill 2012, tabled in Parliament on 10 April 2012.

The regional human rights group that represents 49 non-governmental organisations across 17 Asian countries warned that the new bill will be open to serious violations of human rights, and stressed that its enactment is unnecessary as existing legislations are adequately placed to deal with the offences that the new bill purports to deal with.

“The new bill permits detention of individuals to up to 28 days without being brought before the court, merely on the vague basis that the police has ‘reason to believe’ that the person may be involved in security offences. This will most likely be abused by the police – and by extension, the government – and may lead to the prevalence of arbitrary arrest and detention before proper investigations are undertaken and even without credible evidence,” said FORUM-ASIA’s executive director, Yap Swee Seng.

“Arrest and detention procedures for the purpose of investigations are already set out in the Criminal Procedure Code, which states that any detention of more than 24 hours should be authorised by the courts. This is indeed sufficient to deal with the offences covered under the new bill,” added Yap.

The new bill gives unprecedented powers to the public prosecutor and the police to intercept communications of suspects. After release from detention, the police may attach electronic monitoring device to individuals, a grave violation of personal liberty.

FORUM-ASIA warned of the vagueness in the definition of “security offences” in the new bill. The new security bill refers to the Penal Code, which will also be amended to cover offences in the new bill, defines “security offences” to include activities and publications “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, such as “to support, propagate or advocate any act prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or the maintenance or restoration of public order therein”.

“Such wordings are almost wholly reproduced from the ISA, which give rise to rampant abuse by the government”, said Yap.

While seeking to appease public discontent over the past use of the ISA against political activists by supposedly prohibiting political detentions under the new bill, “political belief or political activity” is nevertheless narrowly defined, thus excludes many other legitimate forms of political activity and provides no guarantee that it will not be used against activists and human rights defenders.

“Given the fact that existing legislations, namely the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, already sufficiently cover offences related to national security and set out arrest and detention procedures for the purpose of investigations, there is absolutely no need for the enactment of a new legislation. Judging from its contents and the way it was drafted without any consultation with civil society and relevant stakeholders, the new bill will only prolong the infamous legacy of the ISA,” stressed Yap.

Yap further added, “Thus far, the Prime Minister’s promises for democratic reforms in Malaysia have fallen way short. The only viable option for the government, if it is serious in its promises for reforms, is to follow through with the immediate repeal of the ISA in the current Parliament sitting, notwithstanding the new security bill which should be withdrawn altogether.”