As expected Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government hammered through controversial amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (PCA) that critics warned would make the law little different from the recently-repealed Internal Security Act that allows for indefinite detention without trial.
“Malaysia is taking a huge step backwards on rights by returning to administrative detention practices much like the draconian Internal Security Act. By doing so, Prime Minister Najib is backing methods that do little to curtail crime but threaten everyone’s liberty,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in statement denouncing Malaysia’s amended Act.
“Our PR MPs fought hard & long till late night to stop #PCA – argued brilliantly, impassionately but alas..BN MPs hav no conscience! not one!” tweeted PKR legal affairs and human rights bureau chief Latheefa Koya.
Indeed the Opposition coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, as well as prominent members of civil society had tried their best to block the amendments from being passed at Parliament but they were outnumbered.
Najib’s Umno-BN holds 133 of the Parliament’s 222 seats while the Pakatan Rakyat has only 89.
“Might is not right. This will not be the end of the story. We will continue our war against unfair laws. This is also the time for Malaysians to question the BN component parties of MCA, Gerakan and MIC. They voted in line with Umno to pass these amendments. They cannot claim they have no choice. They are being hypocrites and the people should punish them for their double-speak,” PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.
What the new amendments would mean to Malaysians
The marathon session in Parliament ended only in the wee hours of this morning. The bill, tabled by Home Minister Zahid Hamidi last week, was debated by MPs from both divides of the House and finally passed at 12.50am.
The draft amendments allow detention for up to two years without trial if the authorities determine that it is in the interests of “public order,” “public security,” or “prevention of crime” – terms not defined – and a three-person “Prevention of Crime Board” finds that the person has committed two or more serious offenses “whether or not he is convicted thereof.”
People can also be detained without trial for having been found to have failed to comply with a supervisory order. The bill would allow a detention order to be renewed indefinitely in increments not exceeding two years.
The Prevention of Crime Boards are to consist of a former judge of the Federal, Appeals, or High Court, and two other people whose qualifications are not specified. No judicial review is permitted of the board’s decisions except on compliance with procedural requirements set out in the Prevention of Crime Act.
Suspects have no right to representation by legal counsel during any inquiry initiated under the board to determine evidence to be used in the board’s decision.
The board’s operations and decisions will be kept from public view by a provision in the proposed amendments that shields the board, any member of the board, and any inquiry officer from disclosing information about the board’s work that “he considers to be against the public interest to disclose or produce.”
As such, Pakatan MPs claimed the provisions proposed by Zahid are inconsistent with all the basics and fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Constitution and indicative of a move towards detention without trial.
They argued that this clearly allows the re-introduction of detention without trial as previously provided in the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 and the Internal Security Act 1960.
The Opposition had proposed to amend clause 3 to remove Article 149 of the Federal Constitution from the preamble to the PCA. The bid failed with only 64 MPs agreeing and 113 rejecting it.
In defending his proposals, Zahid had assured MPs that clause 3 does not contravene Article 149, stressing there is a pressing need to curb organised crime.
“After the Emergency Ordinance and the Restricted Residence Act were repealed, 9,095 detainees from Simpang Rengam were released and assimilated into society,” the Sundaily reported Zahid as saying when winding up the debate on PCA at the policy stage.
“This year alone, there were 109 shooting cases and all of them involved secret societies. This is why the government feels the PCA must be amended.”
The Home Ministry had introduced five amendments to the PCA which were approved unanimously. Among the amendments was an increase in the composition of the Crime Prevention Board from three to five members.
Earlier in the day, the Opposition’s bid to stop the amendments to the PCA to go to the committee stage failed despite an attempt to allow bloc voting.
PKR’s Azmin Ali had requested for bloc voting but his request was not allowed as he could only garner 66 votes to 115 from BN.
Other clauses proposed by the Opposition include removal of secrecy provisions, restrictions on judicial reviews besides allowing a person or witness under inquiry to be represented by a lawyer.
Six Pakatan MPs had proposed eight amendments but failed despite calling for bloc voting on the proposed amendments.
The Barisan Nasional majority in the House ensured that opposition to the proposed amendments was defeated soundly.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had repealed the ISA in 2011 and promised there would be no more unfair laws, was also present during the debate last night.
While the PM claims the amendments would not place civilians at the government’s mercy, observers believe he is making a deliberate pitch to gain the support of the hardliners in his party. Umno will hold an election later this month to pick a new central leadership.
While Najib has managed to retain his position without any challengers for his post as party president, he needs to ensure his loyalists romp home safely.
In calling for the repeal of the ISA in September 2011, Najib had said that Malaysia will be a “functional and inclusive democracy, where peace and public order are safeguarded in line with the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights become a reality.”
“Prime Minister Najib’s efforts to jam a law through the parliament that represses basic rights do very little for Malaysia’s global reputation. Responses to crime require a rights-sensitive approach entirely absent from this legislation,” Human Rights Watch director Robertson said.