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    Jul 28, 2016

    Critics fear Najib may use new Act to curb dissenters


    JUST before the National Security Act (NSC) kicks in on Monday, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was not apologetic for introducing the law as it is aimed at protecting the people from terrorism.

    "In this region, Jakarta has been attacked in January, and I have stressed several times that we are not immune from the dangers of this kind in Malaysia," he added on Tuesday when opening a conference for police chiefs from Asean countries, Utusan Malaysia reported.

    But his words cut no ice with critics of the Act, which is coming into force even as the scandal of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign fund, which he oversaw, is escalating.

    The Act allows a national security council chaired by Mr Najib to declare any location, or even the whole country, as a "security area" in which police can act freely without restraints.

    The authorities can deploy forces to conduct arrests, searches and seizures without warrants in these areas.

    It also obliterates the need to inquire into killings by the police or armed forces.

    In other words, Mr Najib could wield sweeping powers at any time that would normally be exercised only in a general emergency, the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out.

    The Act did not receive express assent from Malaysia's royalty and was gazetted without amendments, although the rulers asked for some changes.

    Legal experts in Malaysia have called the Act a trespass on the authority of the king, who otherwise is the only person who can declare a general emergency under the constitution, the Malay Mail reported.

    The law was passed on the last day of the legislation session in December, taking the opposition by surprise.

    The main concern among its critics is that it may be used to curb human rights and democracy, reported Reuters.

    Pressure on Mr Najib to step down mounted last week after the United States Justice Department filed civil lawsuits against his stepson and associates alleging that more than US$3.5 billion (S$4.8 billion) was misappropriated from 1MDB.

    The lawsuits refrain from naming Mr Najib but refer to a high-ranking government official who received over US$700 million of the misappropriated funds.

    "The likelihood of the NSC being utilised to crack down against any act of civil movement is likely to steadily increase as the manoeuvring space for the PM decreases," said Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of Suaram, a human rights non-governmental organisation.

    Malaysia's opposition coalition is planning an anti-Najib rally on Saturday, two days before the Act takes effect.

    While rallies can still be organised under the Peaceful Assembly Act, the NSC can declare any area - a building, a street or a city - as off-limits for holding protests.