Posted: 13 Apr 2015 02:50 AM PDT
An anti-terror law curtails liberties
THREE years ago Najib Razak, Malaysia's prime minister, fulfilled a promise to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA), a draconian colonial-era law which had long been used to lock up dissenters without trial. In the early hours of April 7th legislators approved a new bill which reinstates some of the old law's power. The Prevention of Terror Act gives a government panel the right to imprison terror suspects for two years, with multiple extensions, or restrict their movements for five years. Critics spy another blow to civil liberties, which were already under siege.
The government argued that the new law was needed to combat a mounting threat from domestic extremists inspired by Islamic State, the militia that occupies large parts of Syria and Iraq. Officials reckon that at least a dozen Malaysians have died abroad fighting for the militants. Police say that since 2013 they have arrested around 90 people suspected of sympathising with them. On April 5th, just hours before Parliament began debating the law, police nabbed 17 people who they said were planning attacks on Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and on Putrajaya, the government seat.
The timing looked suspicious to opponents of the act, which include Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition. Many fewer Malaysians than, for example, Belgians are thought to have travelled to Syria. Nor is Malaysia, a moderately Muslim country, battling provincial Islamic insurgencies of the sort that trouble its neighbours, Thailand and the Philippines. The government has produced no evidence that such sweeping powers are warranted, the International Commission of Jurists, a human-rights group, claims. It laments that only one member of the government's detention panel need have legal experience. Even without the panel's consent, police may now hold suspects for up to 60 days.
The big worry is that the law will become a new weapon in a worsening crackdown on opponents of UMNO, Mr Najib's party, which has ruled Malaysia in coalition since the 1950s but which was nearly unseated in elections held in 2013. In the first three months of this year police arrested 36 people on suspicion of making comments that violated the Sedition Act, another archaic law which is being invoked more frequently than ever. Last month Nurul Izzah, a prominent MP, was arrested on suspicion of sedition after she delivered a speech in Parliament denouncing the imprisonment of her father, Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the opposition. Many think the sodomy charge against him is politically motivated. Other recent detainees include five staff at the Malaysian Insider, a news website, and a cartoonist called Zunar, who faces nine counts of sedition and a prison sentence of up to 43 years.
Mr Najib had promised to roll back the Sedition Act, just as he promised to junk the ISA. Yet while pushing through the new anti-terror rules, his government took the opportunity to table changes to the act which would greatly toughen sentences and forbid speech that denigrates religion.
Both pieces of legislation highlight how far Malaysia has retreated from the reformist policies that Mr Najib espoused during his first term, which ended in 2013. Supporters plead that the prime minister is tacking right only to head off leadership challenges from even less palatable parts of his party (on April 2nd Mahathir Mohamad, an influential former prime minister, renewed his call for Mr Najib to step down). But that is not much comfort to anyone.
Posted: 13 Apr 2015 02:48 AM PDT
A thuggish government is playing racial politics. Najib Razak should be dressed down
MALAYSIA'S prime minister, Najib Razak, paints his country as a model of moderate Islam—a multicultural democracy and a beacon of tolerance. He has spoken of scrapping oppressive British-era laws and nurturing a creative economy. Meanwhile, his spin-doctors explain that their liberal master is the man to vanquish the reactionary forces in his political party, UMNO, which has never been out of power and which is prone to cronyism and political thuggery. Barack Obama, for one, buys this story. He is the first American president since 1966 to have visited Malaysia. And late last year in Hawaii he enjoyed a round on the golf links with Mr Najib. The two men are said to click. The White House gushes about a "growing and warming relationship" between America and Malaysia.
Race to the bottom
Yet it is time to call Mr Najib out on the widening gulf between spin and substance. On the economic front is a growing scandal over dubious connections and misused funds at a national investment fund, 1MDB, that Mr Najib launched and which is now burdened with $12 billion of debts. Malaysia's human-rights record is of even greater concern. Three years ago Mr Najib scrapped a notorious colonial law, the Internal Security Act, which allowed indefinite detention without trial. This week he, in effect, reintroduced it. The new Prevention of Terrorism Act allows suspects to be detained indefinitely. Though it is aimed ostensibly at jihadists, lawyers and civic groups are appalled at the law's sweep (see article).
This fits a pattern. The coalition that Mr Najib leads uses foul as well as fair means to keep the opposition down. In the most recent election, in 2013, it lost the popular vote for the first time. Yet it held on to power thanks to gerrymandered voting districts. Even after that dubious victory, it continued to persecute the charismatic opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who in February was sentenced to five years on trumped-up charges of sodomy. American criticism was perfunctory.
In the past year growing numbers of activists and opposition figures have been arrested under the Sedition Act, another colonial law aimed originally at advocates of independence. Mr Najib, who once promised to remove it from the statute book, now plans to strengthen it with harsher punishments and a clause forbidding speech that denigrates Islam.
Among those already arrested under the Sedition Act are opponents of hudud, corporal and capital punishments, including stoning to death for adultery, laid down in Islamic law. Hudud does not apply in Malaysia, but Islamists from an opposition party want it introduced in Kelantan state in the north-east. The government does not like the idea but is quietly supporting it in a cynical ploy to widen splits in Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition struggling without Mr Anwar.
By encouraging the Islamists, the government is fanning racial and religious divisions in a majority-Malay (and Muslim) country with large ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian minorities. In 1969 bloody race riots nearly tore Malaysia apart. Playing racial politics could be disastrous in this multiracial country. A better and more enlightened way for Mr Najib to boost UMNO's prospects would be for him to repair its image with ethnic Chinese and Indians.
Malaysia's friends should be blunter about this where they have been mealy-mouthed. They should condemn Malaysia's corruption, its decaying freedoms and its racial politics. They should call for both the Sedition Act and unlimited detention to go. Until matters improve, not only should golf be off the agenda; so too should the prime minister's hoped-for trip to Washington this year.
|You are subscribed to email updates from Anwar Ibrahim |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|