Why did the government propose the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA)?

POTA was proposed to eliminate potential threats of violence through any acts relating to terrorism. More specifically, due to the alarming threat of Malaysians joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What happens if someone is arrested under POTA?

Any persons who fall under suspicion of terrorist activities can be detained, without warrant, up to a maximum time of 60 days by the police. Under the approval of Yang di-Pertuan Agong appointed five-to-eight member Prevention of Terrorism board this can be extended for up to two years at a time. Any person who is arrested shall be presented to the magistrate within 24 hours unless released earlier.

What’s the difference between POTA, SOSMA and ISA?

POTA relates much more directly to terrorism and extends the power of the already established Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) which replaced the now repealed Internal Security Act (ISA).

Whereas the ISA allowed initial detention of 60 days with unlimited renewals based solely on the will of the Home Minister, SOSMA limits the detention period for up to 28 days after which the attorney-general can decide to prosecute on what charges. POTA has the same 60-day initial detention period as the ISA but with possible extensions of up to two years at a time relying on the executive power of the Prevention of Terrorism Board. There is also the inclusion of an electronic monitoring device that will be used to keep track of a suspect’s location.

So is POTA the new ISA?

Well, it does herald the return of detention without trial in Malaysia. But the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Wan Jaafar denies that POTA is the twin to the repealed ISA because the executive powers of detainment rest on the appointed board rather than police. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has stated that the executive arm of the government has no say in decisions to detain an individual and by awarding the responsibilities to a “credible body”, only those truly involved in terrorism can be detained and therefore guarantee the safety of Malaysia.

Can POTA really help prevent terrorism?

The Home Minister thinks so. But others disagree: UMNO member and Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) head, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has publicly said that past acts like ISA failed to thwart the rise of militant or terrorist groups, citing Al-Maunah, which was a militant group that intercepted weapons from an army camp in Perak in 2000.

What are the concerns over POTA?

The major concern over POTA, like the ISA, is that it gives police and the appointed board the power to detain suspects without warrant or judicial review for an extended period of time. Though both POTA and SOSMA state “No person shall be arrested and detained solely for his political belief or political activity”, this only refers to parties registered under the Societies Act. Some people therefore believe that POTA could be used more widely than at first anticipated.

The Malaysian Bar has expressed its disapproval of POTA, mainly due to the loosely-defined nature of the clauses. Lawyer Syahredzan Johan voiced his skepticism via Twitter saying “We are not questioning the need to combat terrorism. But safeguards must be put in place to ensure that it is not abused. Ousting jurisdiction of the Courts via ouster clause takes away a very important safeguard.”

What would the alternative be?

Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah believes in a counter-terrorism plan that takes into account democracy, liberty and human rights and already existing entities like the Asean Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) and Counter Violent Extremism (CVE). Saifuddin argues that aligning all of these agencies and groups with a command center that reports directly to the prime minister would be a better alternative that does not infringe on the rights of citizens.

Are there similar acts around the world?

There are and have been a number of acts similar to POTA in the world, including the US’s Patriot Act, Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act and UK’s own Prevention of Terrorism Acts. All of which were controversial for practically the same reason of suspending rights and laws to give authoritative power to certain entities. In fact, Gujarat, a state in India just recently passed a bill that allows for the detention of suspects for up to 180 days and gives the right for police to intercept any forms of communication and present them in court as evidence. This includes phone calls, electronic messages and even oral conversations.

What was the final vote on the bill?

After nearly 15 hours of debate, the unamended bill was passed with 79 to 60 votes. All votes for and against were of BN and PR representatives respectively. It should be noted that 26 Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers were not present at the discussion for unknown reasons. Motions to stop the clock to continue discussion and debate were passed, so that the bill was passed at approximately 2am.

Syahir Ashri

Read this next: 10 things to know about hudud

Read this next: What you should know about Malaysia’s foreign workers

Foreign Workers Cover PicMore from Poskod.MY: Remembering Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Mercurial Father

Lee Kuan YewMore from Poskod.MY: KL’s Strange Museums