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Malaysia: Proposed Repeal of Security Laws

(Oct. 7, 2011) On October 3, 2011, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, initiated in the Parliament a proposal to repeal the country's strict security laws, the Internal Security Act of 1960, Act 82 (ISA), and the Restricted Residence Act of 1933, Act 377 (RRA) (both as amended to Jan. 1, 2006, and both in LAWS OF MALAYSIA (2006 reprint text), Attorney General's Chambers of Malaysia website (last visited Oct. 6, 2011)). The lower house is expected to take action on the relevant legislation this month and submit it to the Senate; if passed, it will be handed on to the constitutional monarch for ratification. The move is reportedly being made in response to criticism from human rights groups and in particular the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which recommended in 2010 that Malaysia amend or repeal its internal security laws. (Alexandra Malatesta, Malayasia PM Initiates Repeal of Security Laws, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 4, 2011).)

Under the ISA, the Prime Minister has the power to order the detention of any person deemed to be a threat to national security or to the “economic life” of the country for a period of up to two years without a trial (id.; ISA art. 8(1)). The RRA stipulates that the Minister has the authority to issue an order for the arrest and detention of any individual if he finds there are reasonable grounds for believing the person should be required to reside in a given area or should be prohibited from entering any area(s) (RRA art. 2(1)). The Minister can also direct anyone named in the order to be placed under police supervision for up to five years and can renew the order for an additional period or periods of up to one year at a time (id. art. 2A(1)). The police have reportedly used the RRA “to control the whereabouts and closely monitor suspects including teenagers accused of being motorcycle thieves, illegal football betting operators and alleged gang members,” without their having been charged in court. (Sean Yoong, Malaysian Leader Launches Security Law Overhaul, AP (Oct. 3, 2011); Dan Taglioli, Malaysia Releases 125 Prisoners in Plan to Repeal Strict Security Laws, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Oct. 5, 2011).)

Opposition leaders have criticized the move as politically motivated, in view of upcoming elections in Malaysia. Civil rights activists are said to support the repeal, but fear the adoption of new security laws, despite the Prime Minister's pledge that the new laws would protect civil liberties, provide for more judicial oversight, and only allow the detention of terrorists. (Yoong, supra; Malatesta, supra.)

In the meantime, on October 5, 2011, the government released 125 prisoners who were being held under the RRA. In an address to Parliament earlier in the week, the Prime Minister had announced the release of all individuals being held under that British colonial-era Act. Najib called the RRA outdated, partly because of technological advances through which exiled offenders can communicate with their in-country confederates. Najib has also stated that the government would “revoke more than 200 unserved warrants” issued under the Act. (Taglioli, supra.)