Friday, 16 September 2011

Malaysia to relax strict security laws; a right move, a new dawn beckons; Thumbs up for ISA move!

Malaysia to relax strict security laws

Eileen Ng AP
Malaysia plans to abolish two unpopular security laws allowing detention without trial and relax other measures curbing the media and the right to free assembly, Prime Minister Najib Razak says.

PM announces repeal of ISA, three Emergency proclamations.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced on Thursday that several draconian laws including the ISA and the three Emergency proclamations are to be repealed under major civil liberty reforms.

The policy changes are the boldest announced by Najib since he took the helm in April 2009 and are seen as a move to bolster support for his ruling coalition ahead of general elections, which are not due until 2013 but are widely expected next year.

Najib says heading toward a more open democracy is risky but crucial for his government's survival.

Malaysia plans to abolish two unpopular security laws allowing detention without trial and relax other measures curbing the media and the right to free assembly, Prime Minister Najib Razak says.

The policy changes are the boldest announced by Najib since he took the helm in April 2009 and are seen as a move to bolster support for his ruling coalition ahead of general elections, which are not due until 2013 but are widely expected next year.

Najib says heading toward a more open democracy is risky but crucial for his government's survival.

"There may be short-term pain for me politically, but in the long-term the changes I am announcing tonight will ensure a brighter, more prosperous future for all Malaysians," Najib said in a nationally televised speech on Thursday.

Critics who have long accused the government of using the security laws to stifle dissent cautiously welcomed the announcement but said they would have to wait to see what the measures are replaced with before assessing the reforms.

Lim Kit Siang, who heads the opposition Democratic Action Party, said he wondered if Najib's move was an election ploy.

"We see this as a victory of the people in demanding for greater democracy and respect of human rights, but the question is will he walk the talk?" Lim said.

Najib said the colonial-era Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance, which allow indefinite detention without trial, would be abolished and replaced with new anti-terrorism laws that would ensure that fundamental rights of suspects are protected. He pledged that no individuals would be detained for their political ideologies.

Najib said police laws would also be amended to allow freedom of assembly according to international norms.

The government will also do away with the need for annual printing and publishing licenses, giving more freedom to media groups, he said.

"It is time for Malaysians to move forward with new hope," he said. "Let there be no doubt that the Malaysia we are creating is a Malaysia which has a functional and inclusive democracy."

The prime minister's speech was to mark Friday's anniversary of the 1963 union of peninsula Malaysia with Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo, six years after the country's independence from British rule.

Najib's National Front has been working to regain public support after suffering its worst performance in 2008 polls, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's alliance wrested more than one-third of Parliament's seats amid public allegations of government corruption and racial discrimination.

The National Front's popularity recently took a dip after authorities arrested more than 1600 demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons against at least 20,000 people who marched for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, who heads the Abolish ISA Movement, asked if the two new laws to be introduced would also provide for detention without trial.

He estimated there are still some 30 people held under the ISA and another 6000 under the Emergency Ordinance, and called for their immediate release.

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Najib announces major changes in controversial laws as Malaysia Day gifts

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians received a significant Malaysia Day present in the form of greater civil liberties and democratic reforms under sweeping changes announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Saying that the country is evolving and the people wanted more freedom, Najib outlined the historic announcement in his Malaysia Day eve address that was telecast live on TV.

The changes, he stressed, were to accommodate and realise a mature, modern and functioning democracy; to preserve public order, enhance civil liberty and maintain racial harmony.

All these changes will need to be tabled in Parliament.

Six of the best

>The Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960 will be repealed.

- In its place, two new laws will be enacted to safeguard peace and order the detention period will be reduced and can only be extended by the courts, except in cases involving terrorism.

>Three remaining emergency proclamations to be lifted are:
- Emergency 1969, Emergency 1966 (Sarawak) and Emergency 1977 (Kelantan).

>Banishment Act 1959 will also be repealed.

>The annual licence renewal requirement for newspapers and publications will be replaced with a one-off permit by reviewing the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

>Reviewing the Restricted Residence Act 1933.

>Allowing greater freedom to assemble by reviewing Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 by taking into consideration Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees every citizen with the right to freedom of speech and assembly

A New Dawn beckons


The Prime Minister’s announcement on a number of changes to the country’s laws, including ending the Emergency, will have massive positive implications.
THE Prime Minister’s speech last night evoked the kind of hope and exhilaration I felt many decades ago on August 28, 1963, when I heard American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his “I have a dream” speech at the steps of Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.

The Prime Minister pointed to a number of changes that he intends to bring to the country. Many of these proposals will have massive positive implications for the country’s legal system, its administration of justice and the sovereignty of law over personal discretion. He promised that:

  •  The emergency proclamations that are in operation will be presented to Parliament for annulment;
  •  The Internal Security Act will be repealed but replaced with two security laws framed under the Constitution’s anti-subversion provision of Article 149;
  •  The Restricted Residence Act and the Banishment Act will be brought to an end; and
  •  The much-criticised Printing Presses and Publications Act will be amended.

It will take some time and considerable research to fathom the full implications of the above pronouncements. Needless to say, the impact on the legal life of the community, the rights of the citizens, the powers of the Home Minister and the Police will be monumental.

The Rule of Law will be strengthened and the days of the omnipotence of the Government will come to an end. Looking at the implications of the lifting of the Emergency, the following salient features of emergency laws must be noted:

Ordinary legal system eclipsed: Under Article 150, once a proclamation of emergency by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is gazetted, the floodgates are lifted and legislative powers of Parliament are greatly broadened. Parliament can make laws that violate, suspend or bypass any constitutional provision except six items in Article 150(6A).

All fundamental rights except freedom of religion can be violated. The federal-state division of powers can be disturbed and state powers usurped.

Emergency laws do not require a two-thirds majority. Neither do they require the consent of the Conference of Rulers or the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sabah and Sarawak.

Judicial review on constitutional grounds is ousted because of Article 150(6).An emergency law has no time limit and can continue as long as the emergency lasts.

Malaysia has been under such a state of emergency continuously since 1964. For all practical purposes, an emergency legal system eclipsed the ordinary legal system for the last 47 years.

The King’s power to make laws: As with the powers of Parliament, the powers of the federal executive are immensely enlarged during an emergency.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong acquires plenary and parallel ordinance-making powers under Article 150(2B) as long as the two houses of Parliament are not sitting concurrently.

The executive’s power of ordinance-making is as large as Parliament’s power of legislation. The entire Constitution can be suspended except for six topics in Article 150(6A).

Since 1964, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has promulgated nearly 92 emergency ordinances. Among these is the Emergency, Public Order and Prevention of Crime Ordinance, which is a favourite with the police and which results in more preventive detentions than even the Internal Security Act.

Executive power to give instructions: Under Article 150, the Federal Government acquires powers to give directions to the states in contradiction with the meticulous federal-state division of powers. If the emergency proclamations are repealed, what effect will that have on the legal system?

Restoration of normal laws: If the two proclamations of national emergency in 1964 and 1969 are repealed, the country will return to the normal operation of the constitutional system.

The five or so emergency laws made by Parliament under the authority of these proclamations will cease to operate. Any detention under these laws will have to be terminated.

Emergency ordinances will end: As with the emergency laws enacted by Parliament, the 90 or so emergency ordinances promulgated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (and the hundreds of subsidiary laws made thereunder) will also cease operation.

However, the cessation of emergency laws is not immediate. Under Article 150(7), there is a grace period of six months during which the emergency laws may still continue to operate. Once the six months expire, the expiry of the laws is automatic and no individual repeal is necessary. However, no action (e.g. for damages) can be taken for anything validly done under previous laws.

Some may wonder whether the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, in his discretion, may refuse the Prime Minister’s advice to restore the Rule of Law and to lift the proclamations of emergencies?In a long line of other cases, it has been held that emergency rule does not alter the position of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as a constitutional monarch bound to act on advice.

The case of PP v Mohd Amin Mohd Razali (2000) altered the law slightly: it held that during the dissolution of Parliament, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is not bound by the caretaker government’s advice on emergency matters.

Amin is, of course, not relevant to the Prime Minister’s speech last night because Parliament is not under dissolution and the Prime Minister’s advice is binding on the King.

Judicial review strengthened: The lifting of the Emergency will remove the eclipse of ordinary laws. The possibility of judicial review of executive and legislative measures will be enhanced. Many human rights will be restored.

The demise of hundreds of emergency laws, some conferring preventive detention powers and others excluding due process, will be a defining moment for Malaysian democracy.

However, the euphoria that is bound to be felt as a result of these wholesome developments must be tempered with caution.

New proclamations: The lifting of the 1964 and 1969 emergencies does not prevent the re-issuing of a new proclamation of emergency and the promulgation of new emergency Acts and ordinances, if circumstances so demand.

Subversion laws stay: Even if the Emergency is lifted, Parliament is still armed with anti-subversion powers under Article 149. New security laws under Article 149 have been suggested by the Prime Minister. Existing laws like the Dangerous Drugs Preventive Measures Act will not be affected by the lifting of the Emergency unless the Government sets about to apply the reformative paint brush to them as well.

Police Act remains: Controversial ordinary laws like the Police Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Universities & University Colleges Act will remain in the statute book though, of course, they will face pressure to accommodate the spirit of the times.

Some may, therefore, regard the lifting of the Emergency as merely a cosmetic measure because Articles 149 and 150 still arm the Government and Parliament with massive power to suspend constitutional guarantees.

Such a perspective is unduly cynical. It amounts to an all-or-nothing attitude. Whatever reforms are adopted and implemented must be welcomed. They may be harbingers of new things to come. They will certainly set a new mood and may be the catalyst and impetus for further improvements to the human rights scene.

A government receptive to the lifting of the Emergency cannot be indifferent to improving the situation of laws under Article 149.

All in all, one must applaud the Prime Minister’s courage, his willingness to listen to the voice of the people, his receptiveness to the felt necessities of the times, and his exhilarating agenda for reform.

The Attorney-General’s office also deserves congratulations for advising the Prime Minister on the incongruence between the rule of law and the state of emergency lasting 47 years.

So, let September 16, 2011 go down in our history as “a joyous daybreak” to end the long night of the Emergency.

Datuk  Prof.Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM.

Thumbs up for ISA move

PETALING JAYA: The repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) is “a breath of fresh air,” said DAP national chairman Karpal Singh.

He also called for the abolishment of the Sedition Act.

“Why is the Sedition Act, enacted by the British in 1948, not one of the laws to be repealed?”

He said this Act was a draconian law which “did not enhance the democratic process”.

He was responding to the Malaysia Day announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak regarding the repeal of the ISA.

In its place, Najib said two anti-terror laws would be drawn up to deal with terrorists, violent criminals and subversive elements.

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said the Najib administration should “really walk the talk” in providing greater civil liberties.

He said the promised reforms were “proposals” at the moment, adding that he “cautiously welcomed” the move to repeal the ISA.

He would observe the details of the alternative laws drawn up to replace it, he added.

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali suggested that a national consultative council be set up to deliberate on the two new anti-terror laws.

He also recommended that members of the council comprised representatives from the Government, Opposition and non-governmental organisations.

Azmin also urged the Government to release all ISA detainees or bring them to court.

Perkasa secretary-general Syed Hassan Syed Ali said its supreme council would meet tomorrow to discuss the changes.

“We will study why the Government decided to abolish these Acts and see whether it was made for political reasons or for the good of the citizens and country,” he said in a statement here yesterday.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said he was disappointed that the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 would not be abolished.

“The only part amended is the Section on publications that will no longer need to renew their printing licences annually.

“The other one for printing false news has been retained,” said the DAP secretary-general.

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Make no mistake, these transformations are real