Malaysia: National Security Council Act gives authorities unchecked and abusive powers

The National Security Council Act that comes into force today empowers the Malaysian authorities to trample over human rights and act with impunity, Amnesty International said today.

“With this new law, the government now has spurned checks and assumed potentially abusive powers,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

The new law will grant the Malaysian authorities the power to carry out warrantless arrests, search and seize property, and impose curfews at will.

With this new law, the government now has spurned checks and assumed potentially abusive powers
Josef Benedict, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

 

One provision, Section 18, allows the Prime Minister to arbitrarily designate any area in the country a “security area,” if he deems it a potential source of “harm.”

“There is good reason to fear that the Act will be yet another tool in the hands of the government to crack down on peaceful protests under the guise of national security,” said Josef Benedict.

The special status given to “security areas” could worsen Malaysia’s track record of custodial deaths and police brutality.

Under Section 35, magistrates and coroners will no longer have to carry out inquests into deaths resulting from operations mounted by security forces within these areas.

The National Security Act also allows security forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless arrests.

The current government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has often invoked claims of protecting national security to choke peaceful dissent. The National Security Act 2016 is merely the latest in a series of laws that pay no heed to the human rights to a fair trial, freedom of movement, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Malaysia.

The Najib government is increasingly resorting to repressive new laws that are said to protect national security but in practice imperil human rights
Josef Benedict, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's South East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

 

Most notably, the Malaysian government adopted the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) last year, and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) in 2012, which also include provisions for preventive detention.

“The Najib government is increasingly resorting to repressive new laws that are said to protect national security but in practice imperil human rights,” said Josef Benedict.

Background

In 2011, the government abolished the repressive Internal Security Act 1960, pledging to replace it with laws that “find a balance between national security and personal freedom”. The ISA had been previously used as a tool to stifle peaceful political dissent.

Those arrested under the ISA could be detained without trial for or up to 60 days for investigation. The Minister of Home Affairs could then issue detention orders of up to two years, renewable indefinitely. Over many years Amnesty International has documented cases of torture and other ill-treatment of ISA detainees.

In December 2015, the National Security Council Act was passed by both houses of Parliament. It comes into force on 1 August 2016.