9 April 2015
You may have heard of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. The government has said this proposed law is necessary to deal with terrorism, in particular international terrorism like that conducted by groups like ISIS. Critics of this proposed law say that it is a new Internal Security Act and that it not only tramples over civil liberties but it is also open to abuse. Here are some very worrying points from the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.
The first point is with regard to the person or persons who conducts the investigation. This person is called an Inquiry Officer and he or she is not supposed to be a police officer. The Inquiry Officer is appointed by the Minister and it is his report which will be the main justification whether to detain a person or not.
Under section 10 of the Bill it says that an Inquiry Officer can obtain evidence even if under normal circumstances such evidence will not be admissible in court. Why is this worrying? Because under normal circumstances, evidence such as confessions obtained under duress, is inadmissible. Does this provision mean that a suspect can be tortured in order to obtain a confession?
Then there is the Prevention of Terrorism Board. This Board is the body that decides whether a person can be detained or not. The government has made a big deal about how this is an improvement to the ISA because whereas in the ISA the Minister alone makes the decision to detain or not, the POTA leaves that decision to a Board. Sure, this decision is now in the hands of many and not one, but who is it that appoints the Board? It is the government of the day; and this naturally raises questions as to the Board’s neutrality.
And what are their powers? They can detain a person for up to two years without trial and they can extend that order for a further two years. In other words this is exactly the same as the ISA.
The ISA had been challenged in court before on grounds that the powers of the Minister if left unchecked by the court could be made on spurious grounds. The POTA tries to get around this by having section 19 which clearly states that no decision of the Board can be questioned in court except on procedural grounds. Whether this section can stand the scrutiny of a court is one thing, but what is clear is that this law is designed to try to keep a court of law out of the equation in the decision making of the Board.
But surely we ordinary people have nothing to fear as this law is meant only for terrorists. Well, the ISA was only meant for violent threats to security but it was used on political dissidents, environmental activists and a host of other people not involved whatsoever with violence. Besides, how can we be sure that a person accused of terrorist activities really was involved because the Board which makes the decision to detain is unaccountable to a court and the Inquiry Officer looks like he or she can take any measures to obtain evidence.
For these reasons alone I oppose the POTA completely. The small steps that we appeared to take as a country with the repeal of the ISA now looks like it is going to be completely wiped out and once again the government of the day is going to have far too much power in a law which so easily can be abused.