KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A proposed security law that gives sweeping powers to a council led by Malaysia's prime minister is a step toward a dictatorship, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
The National Security Council bill, sent to Parliament this week, would give power to the National Security Council to impose strict policing of areas deemed to face security risks. Once a security area is declared, security forces would be allowed, among other things, to conduct searches and arrest individuals without a warrant.
The bill has to be approved by Parliament and is likely to be passed this week as Prime Minister Najib Razak's government has a majority.
Human Rights Watch called the proposed law a "frightening" tool for repression, adding to other abusive laws already being used by Najib and his embattled government against critics. It called for the bill to be rejected by Parliament.
Najib, who is under investigation in a $700 million financial scandal, has said the bill is aimed at countering terrorism threats from within and outside the country, and would strengthen the National Security Council so that it was on par with similar agencies in the U.S. and Britain.
Human Rights Watch said it would allow expansive powers that could fundamentally threaten human rights and democratic rule in Malaysia.
The New York-based group says the law would also give impunity to security forces by protecting them from any legal proceedings, and would impose a sweeping obligation of secrecy on all those involved with the council.
"Now we know what the path to Malaysian dictatorship looks like," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "The law is far broader than can be justified by any real threat to Malaysia's national security, and creates a real risk of abuse."
In April, the government revived detention without trial with a new anti-terror law to fight Islamic militants. The law allows authorities to detain suspects indefinitely without trial, with no court challenges permitted. Rights groups have raised concerns the law could be used to intimidate and silence vocal critics.
About 150 Malaysians have been arrested since 2013 for suspected links to the Islamic State group, including some plotting attacks in the country.