A new law that would allow terrorism suspects in Malaysia to be held indefinitely without charge, trial or judicial review, is a shocking onslaught against human rights and the rule of law, said Amnesty International.
“Indefinite detention without trial is contrary to human rights law and it will not stop terrorism. Abandoning people to rot in a cell for years on end without a judicial process and proof that they have committed a crime is just like aimlessly stabbing in the dark. Authorities must ensure that human rights and fair trial guarantees are respected and protected,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia Researcher at Amnesty International.
Under the newly enacted Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), a board will be established to approve detention or restriction orders for individuals “in the interest of security of Malaysia”. A suspect can first be detained for 59 days without charge before being presented to the board.
This body, which will be appointed by the King and will be outside of the jurisdiction of any court, will have the power to renew detention orders indefinitely. Its decisions cannot be appealed.
The Pota is reminiscent of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA), abolished in 2012, which also allowed for indefinite detention without trial. The new law has not included the necessary safeguards to ensure fair trials and respect of human rights so it could be just as susceptible to abuse as the widely condemned ISA, which was used to unjustly detain government critics and created a climate of fear in the country for decades.
“With the stroke of a pen, Malaysia has managed to get one step closer to becoming a ‘human rights black hole’ where fundamental rights to a fair trial or freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, even if enshrined in the Malaysian constitution, are increasingly being undermined in the name of national security,” said Hazel Galang-Folli.
Today, the Malaysian government also tabled amendments to the colonial-era Sedition Act, including increasing jail terms from three years to up to seven years on conviction and up to 20 years if a suspect is convicted of sedition with causing bodily harm or damage to property. The proposed amendments could also disallow bail for those charged.
In recent months, the Sedition Act has been used to arbitrarily arrest government critics including opposition leaders, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and human rights lawyers.
“Authorities in Malaysia must immediately repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Sedition Act and release all those who have been detained under it only for expressing their opinions peacefully,” said Hazel Galang-Folli.