KUALA LUMPUR: The Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has strongly urged the government to suspend the National Security Council Act (NSC) and to consult all stakeholders regarding the many concerns that have been raised.
“We further call for substantial amendments to be made to the NSC Act, so that national security is genuinely balanced with constitutional, democratic and human rights concerns, and institutional checks and balances,” said LFL Executive Director Eric Paulsen in a statement.
LFL expressed shock that the controversial NSC Act has been gazetted to come into force on 1 August 2016 despite very serious concerns raised by stakeholders — civil society, lawyers, elected representatives — and even the Conference of Rulers which had called for certain provisions of the Act to be “refined”. The Act also failed to acquire the Agong’s Assent and was deemed to be passed by Parliament.
If comparisons were drawn between the now abolished provisions of Part III on the Special Provisions Relating To Security Areas of the Internal Security Act 1960, and Part IV on the Declaration of Security Area of the NSC Act, said Paulsen, “they bear such a striking similarity that we can only deduce that the NSC Act was enacted to replace Part III of the ISA”.
More importantly, he said, the powers to invoke the special provisions relating to “security areas” have been shifted from the Agong under the ISA to the Prime Minister under the NSC Act. Therefore, he continued, it’s clear that the Prime Minister under the NSC Act has effectively usurped the powers of the Agong under the ISA (abolished) to declare “security areas”.
Whilst the threshold for the declaration of a “security area” under the ISA was much higher, requiring public security to be seriously disturbed or threatened by any substantial body of persons to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear organised violence, said the LFL statement, “the threshold under the NSC Act seems astonishingly low, and ambiguously worded, and thus open to abuse”.
Under the NSC Act, said the LFL, the government has lowered the threshold so drastically. “Any person which causes serious harm to the people, territories, economy, national key infrastructure or any other interest of Malaysia can empower the Prime Minister — in the interest of national security — to declare any area a “security area’.”
Under the NSC Act, the Prime Minister has also substantially broadened the scope of the special provisions relating to “security areas” to cover instances that do not justify the involvement of the military or use of deadly force.
Due to the wide ranging and ambiguous wordings of the NSC Act, warned Paulsen, it would seem that the Prime Minister may invoke the special provisions relating to “security areas” on almost anything that is detrimental to his rule. “This includes public protests and other events that do not involve substantial number of people and organised violence.”
The government has denied that the NSC Act was ever intended for situations of emergency and that the powers of the Agong under Article 150 of the Federal Constitution to declare emergency remains intact.
However, the NSC Act has elevated the legal status of the existing National Security Council and provided for the declaration of “security areas” and allows authorities arbitrary powers of use of violence and deadly force, warrantless arrest, search and seizure, and imposition of curfews.
It also empowers the authorities to take possession of land, buildings and moveable property (both public and private), and to destroy any unoccupied building or structure within a security area.