The Malaysian parliament approved an anti-terror law on Tuesday that would allow authorities to detain suspects indefinitely without a trial. While officials claimed the new law -- Prevention of Terrorism Act -- is an effort to curb the rising Islamic militancy in the country, human rights groups say it will challenge civil rights.
The law, which was passed with 79 votes in its favor and 60 against, was reportedly approved after 15 hours of debate and follows Monday’s arrest of 17 people, suspected of plotting terror attacks in the country. The Malaysian government said, according to the Associated Press (AP), that the new law was required in the wake of the rising threat from the Islamic State group and other militant organizations. However, critics claim the act was a revival of the repealed Internal Security Act and would lead to violation of civil rights.
"The passage of this law is a giant step backwards for human rights in Malaysia that fundamentally calls into question the government’s commitment to basic rights that are critical to the rule of law in a functioning democracy,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding: “Passage of this legislation raises serious concerns that Malaysia will return to practices of the past when government agents frequently used fear of indefinite detention to intimidate and silence outspoken critics.”
The Internal Security Act, which was often used against politicians from opposition parties, was scrapped in 2012 due to a public demand for reform, according to the AFP. The government has promised the new law will not be used against people with differing “political” views.
Malaysian police claimed that in January, they arrested 120 people suspected to be linked to ISIS or who had tried traveling to Iraq or Syria, where the group has gained control over large areas of land. The officials added, according to the AFP, that 67 Malaysians had left the country to fight for the group.
The Malaysian government is currently run by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has been in power since 1957. But opposition parties have alleged corruption and abuse of power, and the ruling party is likely to face defeat, AFP reported.