ON Monday, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2015 was tabled by Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for its first reading in Parliament. I expect robust debate to follow the tabling of the Bill and its more contentious aspects, which include detention without trial.
Terrorism is amorphous and there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. As the old adage goes, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” However, such simplicity is indeed misleading because terrorism has morphed into a systematic and pernicious force capable of causing untold damage and harm.
The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Act 747) provides a clear definition of what terrorism and terrorist activates are:
1) To cause, or to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear, organised violence against persons or property;
2) To excite disaffection against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong;
3) An act which is prejudicial to public order in, or the security of, the Federation or any part thereof;
4) Procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of anything by law established
The National Security Council defines terrorism as the unlawful use of threat or the use of force or terror or any other attack by a person, group or state regardless of objective or justification aimed at another state, its citizens or their properties and its vital services with the intention of creating fear, intimidation and thus forcing governments or organisations to follow their impressed will including those acts in support directly or indirectly (refer to Directive No. 18, issued by the National Security Council).
The United States also has a very extensive definition of terrorism. In fact, their definition could serve as a guide for Malaysian authorities to accentuate our definition of terrorism and terrorist activities.
The US definition, as contained in Part 18, United States Code for Crimes and Criminal Procedure makes distinctions between “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism”.
International terrorism, the code states, is defined as violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the US, or transcend national boundaries.
Domestic terrorism, on the other hand, is defined as acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law and appear to intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the US.
To me, the definition of terrorism is crucial to ensure that Malaysia’s new anti-terror laws are used with clear purpose.
Furthermore, terrorism is more than suicide bombings and taking up arms against the state but covers the cyber and financial world as well.
Terrorists today have an arsenal of non-conventional weapons that can wreeak havoc and bring societies to their knees.
The extensive use of social media by the Islamic State is a good example of the dangers that face democratic and civilised societies. The use of Twitter and Facebook for recruitment exposes the porous nature of our cyber control mechanisms.
Malaysians too have joined IS’ misguided struggle. Thus, clear definitions and legal sanctions will help deter others from joining the cause.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is a step in right direction because we must never take the likes of IS and other related groups for granted. Action must be fast and effective and any delay in identifying threats can lead to fatal consequences.
However, like all laws, it too must have its limits. It is welcome, thus, that the power to decide on detention is no longer with the Minister but with the Prevention of Terrorism Board appointed by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. Also, the Bill goes a step further in defining the criteria for appointments to the Board to ensure that the right people are appointed.
The authorities, however, have a responsibility to ensure that the Act is not abused and used only against those who engage in terrorist related activities. It must not be used to silence legitimate political dissent.
The fundamental liberties offered to Malaysians by the Federal Constitution must be respected and upheld but those who deliberately seek to harm and threaten our Federation must be punished.