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Malaysia anti-terror law revives detention without trial

April 7, 2015

Parliament has passed a new law in Malaysia which allows terrorism suspects to be held without trial or charges. Critics have argued it's merely a renewal of an old law used to silence opposition to the government.

Image: cc-by-sa-3.0/CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

In the early hours of Tuesday morning Malaysia's parliament passed a tough new anti-terrorism law that critics argue revives detention without trial.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was passed after twelve hours of intense debate, with a final vote of 79 legislators for and 60 against the bill. Opposition lawmakers expressed fears that the new law would be used against critics and opponents of the current administration, but the government argued that the law was necessary to protect the country from extremists.

The bill allows authorities to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial and without court charges. The government maintained that the law was imperative because dozens of Malaysians have been arrested since 2013 for suspected links to the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

"This is a real threat, and prevention measures are needed," said Home Affairs Minister Zahid Hamidi.

Reopening "Pandora's Box"

Critics said the law was simply a revival of the Internal Security Act, which was scrapped in 2012 amid accusations it was being used by the government to intimidate and silence those who spoke out against it.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi
Ahmad Zahid HamidiImage: BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

"By restoring indefinite detention without trial, Malaysia has reopened Pandora's Box for politically motivated, abusive state actions that many had thought was closed," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Malaysia's national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said 17 people were arrested on Sunday during a secret meeting to plot attacks in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. The suspects ranged in age from 14 to 49 and were allegedly plotting to rob banks, raid police stations, and kidnap high-profile individuals. Khalid said the two leaders, one of whom was once held under the old Internal Security Act, had undergone militant training in Syria and returned to Malaysia in December.

At least 63 Malaysian citizens are thought to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join IS and dozens more have been charged in court in the past year for attempting to fight alongside the militants.

es/jil (AP, dpa)