KUALA LUMPUR - The Dewan Rakyat has passed the Prevention of Terrorism Bill at policy stage, just as authorities announced the arrests of 17 people who were planning terror strikes in the country.
The Bill underwent heated debate that extended to 10 hours.
It saw Barisan Nasional (BN) backbenchers defending the necessity of preventive measures to deal with the "extraordinary" threats posed by terror entities such as the Islamic State (IS).
Opposition lawmakers, however, argued that some provisions in the Bill were against human rights and civil liberties.
The Bill will allow those involved or commissioned to carry out terrorist acts to be detained for years and have their movements restricted.
Earlier in the Parliament lobby, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tunku Jaafar told reporters that the arrests of the 17 Malaysians, including two who just returned from Syria, showed that the law was needed and would prevent things from happening rather than wait for things to happen.
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman (BN-Pengerang) said during the debate that there was no such thing as "absolute freedom" and stressed that the law had enough provisions to safeguard the rights of everyone.
"What about the rights of our anak dara (young girls) who are influenced and brainwashed by the militants?" she questioned.
Tan Sri Anuar Musa (BN-Ketereh) said the crimes committed by terrorist groups such as IS were different from normal criminal acts.
N. Surendran (PKR-Padang Serai) questioned the need for a two-year detention period without trial as countries with bigger threats such as the United Kingdom and United States had shorter detention periods.
He argued that the existing Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) had sufficient detention periods.
Surendran also said when the Internal Security Act (ISA) was drafted, it was guaranteed that it would not be misused to detain people for their political beliefs or activities but proved to be otherwise.
"Although POTA states that no person shall be arrested for their political beliefs or activities, it also states that the decision of the Prevention of Terrorism Board cannot be challenged unless it is on procedural matters," he added.
To this, Datuk Seri Noh Omar (BN-Tanjung Karang) said POTA was unlike ISA.
"With ISA, you could not bring the suspect to the magistrate's courts, this is different," he said.
Several Pakatan MPs said they planned to table their own version of POTA, omitting the provisions on detention without trial and the anti-terrorism board.
They also proposed that the High Court should have the power to decide if a suspect should be remanded.
To this, Dr Wan Junaidi said with the High Court already bogged down with its own cases, there could be difficulty in getting people of the level required to make such decisions because time could be in short supply.
"This is why whenever we decide on something, we think in terms of our own existing infrastructure, the availability of magistrates, the number of magistrates available, certain levels of magistrates are allowed and certain are not," he explained.
Dr Wan Junaidi said remands had never been decided in High Courts in any part of the world. "Even in England, there is no such thing, it still goes through a senior magistrate," he added.
As at press time, the Bill was snagged at committee stage and had only been passed at policy stage after a bloc voting called by the Opposition, requiring MPs from both sides of the political divide to turn up physically to register their vote.
Opposition lawmakers attempted to push in three proposed amendments to the Bill but were rejected.
Earlier, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi when wrapping up to the debate, assured lawmakers that human rights and civil liberties would not be jeopardised.
He stressed that the laws were preventive in nature, which included rehabilitation of the suspected terrorist and not punitive.
He said it was crucial that the proposed Bill was passed by lawmakers, adding that views expressed during debates would be taken into consideration by the Attorney-General for future amendments if needed.