New security measures became law this week in Malaysia.
Critics say the measures give Prime Minister Najib Razak far-reaching emergency powers. They fear the new security law could be used to crush human rights.
The law gives the Malaysian leader power to suspend civil liberties whenever he believes there is a security threat.
Josef Benedict is Amnesty International's deputy director for South East Asia and the Pacific. He said the Malaysian government has rejected limits on its power and now has the tools for “potentially abusive power.”
The United Nations human rights regional office said it was “gravely concerned” about the situation in Malaysia. It said the laws may lead to human rights violations and “unjust restrictions” on free speech and meetings.
The new legislation was passed at a time when investigators continue studying alleged corruption in the country. Some critics see the security law as a way for Prime Minister Najib to hold on to power.
Najib has been under investigation since information surfaced that he received about $700 million in his private bank accounts. The money appeared to have come from the state-owned investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB.
Najib has denied all accusations of wrongdoing. He says the money was a political donation from someone in the Middle East whom he has refused to identify.
The United States Justice Department is taking part in the investigation. U.S. officials have taken steps to seize more than $1 billion worth of property, works of art, jewelry and even rights to a Hollywood movie. Officials suspect all those items were bought with money stolen from the 1MDB fund.
Najib founded the state development fund in 2009. The Malaysian finance ministry now owns it. The prime minister controls the finance ministry.
A spokesman for Najib has said the government will cooperate with any international investigations. “As the prime minister has always maintained, if any wrongdoing is proven, the law will be enforced without exception.”
Officials told the court the stolen money passed through bank accounts in the United States, Luxembourg, Singapore and Switzerland. Officials claim the funds were used to buy high-priced homes, artworks and even a private airplane.
In addition to Malaysia and the United States, other governments have been investigating 1MDB. They include Singapore and Switzerland.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Fern Robinson wrote this story for VOANews.com. Jim Dresbach adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
allege – v. accused of having done something wrong or illegal but not yet proven guilty
potentially – adj. possibly
account – n. a record of credit and debt; a business or financial program
fund – n. an amount of money that is used for a special purpose