Zunar could face 43 years in jail for tweets criticising the judiciary over sentencing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Malaysia’s parliament has passed an anti-terrorism bill that reintroduces detention without trial, three years after it was revoked by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Opposition members of parliament proposed several amendments to the legislation, under which individuals can be detained for up to two years with two-year extensions thereafter, but it was voted through unchanged early Tuesday morning, the Reuters news agency reported.
Malaysia last had detention without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which was repealed in 2012 by Najib under his reform agenda.
Nurul Izzah Anwar, daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and a member of Malaysia’s parliament, told Al Jazeera opponents of the bill were not given enough time or room to debate the act.
“We asked the home minister to establish a bipartisan committee to discuss the impact each provision would have before the act would go to vote but they rejected the idea,” she said.
On Sunday, Malaysian police arrested 17 people, including two who had recently returned from Syria. The men are accused of sympathising with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, but Anwar says the government has not been open about the threat the group poses.
“We have had no disclosures on the ISIL threat, no intelligence reports. Just a proclamation that ISIL is a threat. We need access to all information.”
Anwar warned that the law, like the Sedition Act used to detain more than a hundred people including journalists over the last two months, will be used to target political opponents of the government.
“The law gives wide powers to declare any organisation a terrorist threat. It’s very troubling as there’s no judicial review … without balancing civil liberties and security, the climate will worsen,” Anwar said.
Giant step backwards
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch described the decision as “a giant step backwards for human rights in Malaysia”.
“By restoring indefinite detention without trial, Malaysia has re-opened Pandora’s Box for politically motivated, abusive state actions that many had thought was closed when the abusive Internal Security Act was revoked in 2012,” he said in a statement.
The new law permits the police to arrest and detain individuals suspected of activities they consider “terrorist” in nature, with decisions for extension of detention made by a Prevention of Terrorism Board.
The law skips the judiciary, disallowing the courts from having jurisdiction over decisions made by the board.
Home Minister Zahid Hamidi told parliament on Monday that authorities suspect police stations and army camps were among the targets eyed by the the suspected fighters as sources of firearms, the Star newspaper reported.
“This is a real threat and preventive measures must be carried out,” Zahid said, according to the daily.
Malaysia has arrested more than 60 citizens suspected of links with ISIL and identified 39 Malaysians already in Syria and Iraq.