Malaysian govt slated for failing to abolish repressive laws

New govt should live up to its reform agenda and abolish detention without trial, says Human Rights Watch
Malaysian govt slated for failing to abolish repressive laws

A file image of a demonstrator sitting in handcuffs after being detained by Malaysian police during a protest in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 30, 2017. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

A leading rights group has called on the Malaysian government to repeal laws that permit detention without trial.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed disappointment over a declaration made by Malaysian home minister, Muhyiddin Yassin that stated the government would amend, rather than rescind, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 which permit detention without trial.

Muhyiddin announced the decision on Dec. 30, 2018 but provided no details on the proposed amendments.

Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director, criticized the government's move.

"Successive Malaysian governments have promised to abolish discredited laws that allow detention without trial, only to cave to pressure from Malaysia's security forces," said Robertson.  

Malaysia's new government should live up to its reform agenda and abolish detention without trial once and for all, he said.

The Prevention of Crime Act reproduces most of the abusive provisions of Malaysia's notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), which was repealed in 2012, said HRW in a statement. The law allows police to detain suspects for up to 59 days with no judicial oversight.

As with the ISA, a government-appointed board can impose detention without trial for up to two years, renewable indefinitely, order electronic monitoring, and impose other severe restrictions on the freedoms of movement and association, without judicial review.

"Permitting a government-appointed body to order indefinite detention without judicial review or trial is an open invitation to serious abuse," Robertson said. "The Prevention of Crime Act creates conditions conducive to torture and denies suspects the right to challenge their detention or treatment."

The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act allows the police to detain suspects for up to 28 days for a range of "security offenses" without seeking authorization from a court. For the first 48 hours, detainees can be denied access to a lawyer and to their family, seriously increasing the risk of abuse, HRW said.

The act also overrides Malaysia's Rules of Evidence to permit the use of otherwise inadmissible evidence during security trials.

Past authorities used the act's provisions to detain Maria Chin Abdullah, the then chairperson of the Bersih election reform movement, the night before a major Bersih rally. She was held in solitary confinement for 11 days.

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