Malaysia’s decision to scrap a preventive detention law often used by the government to stifle dissent has been welcomed by Amnesty International as a significant step for human rights in the country.
Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Thursday that the Malaysian government plans to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows the authorities to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial.
The ISA has been used to imprison opposition leaders, activists, bloggers and students critical of the government.
“Prime Minister Najib’s repeal of the ISA is a significant step forward for human rights in Malaysia. The ISA is a notoriously repressive piece of legislation that has stifled peaceful dissent in the country for over 50 years,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“The thousands of people still detained under these preventive detention laws must be either charged with a recognisably criminal offence, or be released immediately.”
Prime Minister Najib said the government planned to lift all emergency proclamations, and repeal or review other restrictive laws. He also proposed to replace the ISA with two new laws to preserve peace and public order and combat terrorism.
“The Prime Minister must ensure that the Malaysian government removes other barriers to free speech and peaceful assembly in existing laws. And any new legislation must comply with international human rights standards.” said Sam Zarifi.
The ISA allows the police to arrest individuals they believe have acted, or are “about to” or “likely to” act in a way that would threaten Malaysian security, “essential services” or “economic life”.
Detainees can be held for up to 60 days for investigation by the police, after which time the Home Minister can issue a two year detention order under the ISA.
The two year detention can be renewed indefinitely without the detainee ever being charged with a crime or tried in a court of law.