Malaysia backtracking on abusive security law

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Graphic: UN Human Rights - Asia

The Malaysian government is breaking a key election pledge by proposing to amend rather than repeal an abusive national security law, Human Rights Watch said today.

The government on 9 April 2019, put before Parliament a bill to amend the National Security Council Act, the latest reversal of promises made by the ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance prior to the 2018 elections.

The Pakatan Harapan, in its election manifesto published in 2018, called for rescinding the National Security Council Act, which the previous Barisan Nasional government enacted in 2016.

The act empowers the prime minister to declare security areas where special powers would apply, and grants government officials new powers to make arrests without warrants, impose curfews, take possession of land, buildings and other property, and dispense with inquests following the use of lethal force.

“The National Security Council Act is a rights-abusing law that should be revoked rather than tinkered with,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Keeping this law on the books betrays the human rights principles the government proclaimed it was committed to uphold.”

The Pakatan Harapan manifesto, entitled “Buku Harapan: Rebuilding Our Nation, Fulfilling Our Hopes”, condemned “tyrannical laws” adopted by the government, including the National Security Council Act and promised to revoke such laws if it came to power.

The proposed law includes provisions that will worsen basic rights protections, Human Rights Watch said. Provisions remaining in effect will allow the National Security Council, a federal agency under the Prime Minister’s Department, to issue mandatory directives to any government entity, including all ministries and agencies, the armed forces and the police.

READ MORE:  Honour election promise to abolish National Security Council Act

A proposed amendment increases the powers of the council to collect information without limit from the general populace. This includes allowing the council, through the director of operations, to “request from any individual or entity … any information or intelligence in his or its possession”. The failure to comply with such a request is a criminal offence, subject to imprisonment and hefty fines.

Another proposed amendment increases the possible prison term for those found disclosing information relating to the affairs of the council from two years to five.

“Not only is the Malaysian government keeping this draconian security law, it is introducing amendments that will expand the National Security Council’s ability to violate rights,” Robertson said.

“The government should keep to its manifesto pledge to abolish this act, along with other repressive laws such as the Sedition Act, the Prevention of Crime Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.”

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