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Lawyers question terrorism law in Malaysia
Jim Middleton speaks to Lim Chee Wee, President of the Malaysian Bar Association.

Lim Chee Wee is the President of the Malaysian Bar Association which is worried about the anti-terrorism legislation replacing Malaysia's Internal Security Act.
JIM MIDDLETON: Political question first. Given that Najib Razak has been tantalising Malaysians with the prospect of an early election for some months now, when do you think he will actually go to the polls?

LIM CHEE WEE: Of course I'm merely speculating, but I rather suspect it will be sometime in September because the next parliamentary sitting after this session will probably be in June. And there are further law reforms that the honourable prime minister has in mind to table in parliament. That being the case, I think the earliest will probably be sometime in September.

JIM MIDDLETON: Now to the question of how free and fair the elections whenever they're held will be. What concerns does the Bar Council have about the honesty of the forthcoming elections? And what, if anything, do you plan to do about it?

LIM CHEE WEE: Well there are really two main concerns about the coming January elections. The first of which is the integrity of the principal electoral role. There have been a number of complaints about phantom voters. There have not been sufficient concrete steps taken by the Election Commission to ensure that a principal electoral role is free of phantom voters. The best solution to that really is the Indian model, where the Election Commission there actually goes house to house to ensure that the registered voters on the role do in fact exist in the address as stated in the role.

The second concern that we have is whether or not the elections, there's a level playing field in the elections; for example, access equal access to media and so on. These are the two main concerns that the Malaysian Bar have. And what we've done is really continue to urge government to put these law reforms in place before the next elections.

JIM MIDDLETON: Let let's turn to another big issue. The Communist insurgency in Malaya ended half a century ago. Why then has it taken the government so long to repeal the Internal Security Act which was designed to meet the challenges of the emergency?

LIM CHEE WEE: The ISA was introduced in Malaya on the 1st August 1960. Since then, almost 5,000 individuals were detained under the ISA. And subject to official correction, none of whom were actually prosecuted under the legislation.

And I think once a government has been so used to such wide powers, it's always difficult to let go. And of course the government recently in parliament has acknowledged, officially acknowledged that this oppressive legislation has been abused. It has now taken this prime minister, the present prime minister, some time to announce for its repeal. And he did so on Malaysia Day last year.

JIM MIDDLETON: What about the anti-terrorism legislation replacing the ISA? Why do you think it is too draconian?

LIM CHEE WEE: The Security Offences Special Measures Bill has two marked improvements over the old legislation. The first of which is that we've now done away with indefinite preventative detention without trial laws, in that any individual who is arrested and detained, suspected of any offences relating to security offences, are detained for the first 24 hours after which it can be extended to 28 days after which he's either prosecuted or released. The second of which is that in the new legislation there's what is called ouster clauses in that any act of the police can be subject to legal challenge in our courts.

So those are the two improvements in the new legislation. But the weaknesses really centre upon the new values of evidence which represent a radical departure from the ordinary criminal trial rules which are mainly that the best available evidence be produced subject to cross-examination. What has happened is that the rules of evidence have made it easier for evidence to be admitted. And secondly there is the introduction of what is called the summary of evidence rules in favour of the public prosecutor.

JIM MIDDLETON: These provisions do seem to be somewhat similar to those enacted elsewhere in the world in the wake of September 11, 2001. The government says that questions of national security do need to be guaranteed. They do have a point don't they?

LIM CHEE WEE: You're certainly correct Jim. The similar debate took place in Canada, in the UK and a little bit in Australia. And so far as the government's intention is to ensure that national security is secured and protected, it is never easy to find that delicate balance between collective security and individual liberties and freedom. But certainly, what we must always bear in mind, that whatever inroads we make into individual liberties they are the sufficient safeguards there. And these laws and the change in the rules of evidence cannot be a substitute to better police intelligence and investigations.
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