Tough new legislation has come into force allowing the government to declare martial law over a perceived “security threat.” Critics say democracy is threatened as sweeping powers can be used against political opponents.
A landmark security law that gives embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak sweeping emergency powers came into force Monday, with rights groups warning it could be used to trample on human rights.
Amnesty International said the law "empowers the Malaysian authorities to trample over human rights” with impunity.
"With this new law, the government now has spurned checks and assumed potentially abusive powers," Josef Benedict, Amnesty's deputy director for South East Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.
Specifically, the legislation allows a National Security Council headed by the prime minister essentially to suspend civil liberties in designated "security areas" giving security forces sweeping powers of search, seizure and arrest. Najib - who has been fending off accusations of embezzling billions of euros - defended the law as necessary to combat terrorism and dismissed jitters as fear-mongering.
"My government will never apologize for placing the safety and security of the Malaysian people first. These laws were necessary, and other countries have since followed our lead," Najib said.
Broad security laws have chilling effects
Critics accuse Prime Minister Najib Razaj of enacting the law to ward off political and legal challenges.
Meanwhile, the UN's human rights agency and other rights organizations have railed against the security law as a potentially frightening step backward.
"We are gravely concerned that... the act may encourage human rights violations," Laurent Meillan, acting head of the UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia, said in a statement last week.
This comes as the US Justice Department launched a move to seize more than $1 billion in assets which it says were purchased with money stolen from 1MDB economic development fund, including by a person identified only as "Malaysian Official 1" -- a reference to Najib, according to media reports.
The US move has heightened expectations of a return of anti-Najib protests in Malaysia, but the new law would enable security forces to quash public demonstrations.
Najib's ruling party has controlled Malaysia since independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. Najib came into office in 2009 pledging an end to ruling-party graft and authoritarianism, but the 1MDB scandal has hurt his standing domestically and abroad.
jar/kl (AFP, AP)