National Security Council Bill gives excessive powers to PM, endangers civil liberties

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Activists submit a memorandum in Parliament on 3 December 2015 to protest against the National Security Council Bill

There appears to be no precedent for the draconian provisions of this bill in our legislative history, says N Surendran.

The National Security Council Bill 2015 which is due to be debated in parliament in this session is a matter of grave concern to all Malaysians.

It gives arbitrary, extensive and dangerous new powers to the prime minister personally, and to the new eight-person National Security Council, which is set up under this bill.

Clause 18(1) of the bill allows the prime minister to declare any area in Malaysia as a “security area”. Within this security area, the “security forces”, which are defined to include the armed forces, are given wide powers.

There are no limits placed to the size of the area that can be declared a security area; a large part or even the whole of Malaysia can be declared a security area.

Further, the prime minister can indefinitely extend the initial six-month duration of the declaration of a security area.

Unusually, although public order comes under the home minister, it is the prime minister who is given this enormous power to declare security areas. There appears no precedent for this in our legislative history.

The bill thus leads to an excessive concentration of powers in the hands of the prime minister. It is unacceptable under our democratic system that the prime minister is given such powers.

Within the security area, the director of operations appointed by the council has extensive powers. This includes evacuating the public from their homes and resettling them; imposing curfews; and granting wide powers of arrest, search and seizure, including entering and searching homes. Such powers raise serious and very real concerns for civil liberties.

Under clause 30, the director of operations or anyone authorised by him has the power to take temporary possession of land and buildings, which includes homes, if necessary by force. This infringes on the sacrosanct right to property and may be in breach of Article 13 of the Federal Constitution.

A serious infringement of basic human rights arises from clause 35, which provides that magistrates may dispense with inquests where persons have been killed as a result of operations by security forces. An inquest is essential in any case of suspicious death. What reason can there be to stop inquests in security areas? Not holding inquests may encourage abuse of power by the security forces, including custodial abuse. This is in clear breach of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees life and personal liberty. Again, there appears to be no precedent for such a provision in our legislative history.

Even worse, pursuant to clause 38, citizens are to have no legal recourse to courts against wrongful acts committed by the council, director of operations or security forces, where these acts are done in ‘good faith’!

This new bill is entirely unnecessary and excessive. There are stringent laws already available dealing with serious threats to the nation, including Pota and Sosma. There are no existing threats to our nation, whether internal or external, that even remotely justify these drastic new powers.

We call upon the government, in the interests of the public and the nation, to withdraw this bill in its entirety.

N Surendran is the member of parliament for Padang Serai.

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