The DNA Identification Bill and what it means for Anwar

Written by Melody Song, The Edge

The passing of the controversial DNA Identification Bill 2008 in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday means it is now on its way to senate for approval before it becomes an Act of Parliament.

With several amendments, including provisions to replace police officers as Forensic DNA chief, deputy chief and officers, the bill now also has a clause to enable a person who refuses to allow a non-intimate sample to be taken to be charged.

The logic behind having the legislation in place is to enable the setting up of a Malaysian Forensics DNA Data Bank, whose primary function would be to store and analyse samples.

It would also allow the police to take DNA samples from crime suspects and to use the samples as a source of reference to solve future crimes.

The bill, tabled in August 2008 for a second reading, is divided into six parts and contains 27 Sections.

However, the timing of the bill has raised a few eyebrows, especially among opposition parliamentarians.

Last year, Pakatan Rakyat parliamentarians staged a walkout over the government’s refusal to set up a special committee to study the shortcomings in the legislation and to seek advice from independent experts on the matter.

They have also alleged that the bill was pushed forward without proper deliberation, just in time for the high-profile sodomy case involving Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan, due to be heard in court on July 8.

The passing of the bill would directly impact Anwar’s case and mean that the prosecution would be able to use samples that were collected back when Anwar was held under the Internal Security Act in 1998.

Anwar had previously refused to provide a DNA sample to facilitate investigations into the current sodomy charge. If the Bill becomes law however, such defiance would be punishable by a RM10,000 fine or up to one year in jail.

On Tuesday, Anwar expressed disappointment at its passing by a one-vote majority, calling it a malicious campaign by the BN government to “kill” him off.

Arguments have also been raised since last year by the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council, who feel that a data-protection regime and privacy act need to be in place before passing the DNA Act.

Along with other civil-society organisations, they have criticised the legislation for putting excessive power in the hands of the police and the home minister, calling it a disaster for legal and human rights.