Malaysia's new security law empowers embattled PM

Critics say the government is being hypocritical about Islamic militancy because they're actively wooing local radicals
Malaysia's new security law empowers embattled PM

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during the 2015 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition, Malaysia. As of Aug. 1 Najib will have sweeping security powers in designated "security" areas of Malaysia. (Photo by PACAF via Flickr /CC BY 2.0) reporter, Kuala Lumpur
December 28, 2016
(UCAN Series: Best of 2016)

Malaysia is tackling the threat of Islamic extremism with an education campaign and sweeping new powers for politically embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak that come into force Aug. 1.

The National Security Council Act will give security forces the authority to search, arrest, kill and destroy in any part of the country declared a "security area."

Civil liberty advocates, Lawyers for Liberty warned that the new security law is a carte blanche for Najib, who is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal, to do as he pleases whenever he feels threatened.

Under the new law investigators cannot be dragged through the courts and there will be no formal inquests into killings by security forces in those areas.

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The law was passed on the last day of parliament last December and enacted without royal assent from the country's king, who had asked for some changes.

Eric Paulsen, the head of Lawyers for Liberty, said in a statement that "the scope of the special provisions relating to 'security areas' cover instances that do not justify the involvement of the military or use of deadly force."

Najib dismissed criticism and reiterated that the government would never apologize for enacting laws that he said places the security of Malaysians first.

"These laws are necessary and other countries have since followed our lead," Najib said in a statement on July 27, assuring Malaysians that the government would continue to put all possible measures in place to protect them.

Terrorist outrages around the world demonstrate that the threat is real and growing, and Malaysia, too, got its first taste of extremist attacks last month, Naib continued.

"Islamic State and its cruel, perverted ideology have no place in Islam, nor in our peaceful, diverse and tolerant country," he said. "Now is the time for us to unite and play an even greater part alongside the world community in the fight against terrorism."

In order to build up to the game-changing powers, government ministries have been tackling radicalism at a grassroots level.

Government authorities announced plans to include parent-teacher associations, teachers unions and student associations in special briefings on the danger posed by the radicalism and the so-called Islamic State, also known, pejoratively, as "Daesh."

Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid said July 27 that the briefings would focus on two main aspects — Islam's view on terrorism and use of Islam for terrorism.

He said the government wanted to ensure that all those involved in education get a clear explanation of the threat posed by Islamic State "and thus prevent educators from being involved with the militant group."

No students, teachers or school administrators have so far been found to be involved in Islamic State, but the government is taking no chances in the predominantly Muslim country.

A "Counter-Extremism Communications Committee" comprising officials from the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, Home Ministry and Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is also being formed.

Speaking after a seminar attended by 300 parents and students from 10 selected schools in Terengganu, Jailani Johari, a deputy minister who will head the committee said: "We need to give detailed explanations … especially [to] the teenagers, as they are easily influenced by viral information sent via social media.

"So far we have been able to identify the methods deployed by Daesh militants in their attempt to attract the public, including using social media and creating [rousing] songs... but we have managed to trace them and block some of their websites.

"With the new committee we will make sure the spread of Daesh's militant capabilities will be curtailed," he said.

The raft of special anti-Islamic State propaganda programs by the government comes alongside the enforcement of the upcoming National Security Council Act.

But critics say the government is being hypocritical on the issue of Islamic militancy because local radicals are being wooed by the coalition government to shore up flagging political support.

They fear the National Security Council Act and the specter of Islamic State will be used to silence critics of the corruption scandals plaguing the prime minister.

Published July 29, 2016

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