Malaysia unveiled long-awaited anti-terror laws in Parliament yesterday, giving it powers to seize travel documents of both citizens and foreigners, imposing harsher penalties on those who are convicted while under restriction, and punishment by up to 30 years in jail for the act of training, travelling or building transport devices for terrorism.
The new legislation also gives the authorities the powers to detain suspects indefinitely without trial, but it states that "no person shall be arrested and detained...solely for his political belief or political activity".
Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar tabled Bills to introduce the Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), as well as amendments to five current criminal laws that will allow the exercise of powers under these laws and introduce stiff punishment for terror acts.
The Special Measures Against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act allows the authorities to seize travel documents of any citizen or foreigner travelling to or from Malaysia "to engage in the commission or support of terrorist acts" and to jail for up to two years anyone who refuses to comply.
Under Pota, a five-to-eight member Prevention of Terrorism Board will have the power to order two-year detention or five-year restriction orders that can be renewed indefinitely.
"There shall be no judicial review in any court" of the board's decision, except on issues of compliance with the provisions under Pota, the Bill reads.
Any person put under a restriction order must also wear an electronic monitoring device to ensure that he remains in permitted areas or does not enter prohibited areas.
Pota also allows the creation of a register containing the fingerprints and photographs of persons detained or under restriction, and if they are found to be in constant contact with each other while under restriction, they will be imprisoned for five to 15 years.
A person on the register will also be liable to double the jail term, or whipping, if convicted under any offence.
Changes to the Penal Code will make receiving training or instruction, travelling to or from Malaysia to commit terrorism in a foreign country, and the building of "conveyance for use in terrorist acts" liable to up to 30 years in prison.
While the laws do not define conveyance, the term is presumed to include vehicles and drones that could be used for terrorism-related purposes.
Even possession of items associated with terrorism can result in seven years in jail, and the presence of a person at a terror training venue could send him behind bars for 10 years.
The seven bills will be debated from April 6 to 9.
The new anti-terror laws have been the subject of scrutiny since they were mooted last November, with critics wary that provisions allowing for detention without trial will be abused to stifle political dissent.
They warn that the preventive detention was a return of the Internal Security Act, repealed in 2012 as part of Prime Minister Najib Razak's liberal reforms. The government has been accused of abusing the law to imprison critics.
The tabling of the Bills comes as the Muslim-majority country struggles to contain Islamic militancy, after 61 Malaysians travelled to the Middle East last year to join terror groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The government first proposed a new anti-terror law after tabling a White Paper in Parliament last November, outlining data and its position on the ISIS threat, which has seen at least 68 suspects nabbed in the past two years.
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