Malaysia Repeals Security Act and Emergency Provisions

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced September 15 that the government will repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA), along with three emergency provisions, and replace them with two laws to prevent “terrorism, subversive activities and maintain public order.”  The ISA and emergency declarations currently allow detention without trial for up to two years, and students, activists and opposition leaders have been arrested as a result. However, the government claims once the ISA and other acts are repealed citizens will no longer be detained strictly based on ideology.  The government will also amend the Police Act to better promote freedom of assembly—although street protests would still be considered illegal— and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, to make it easier for outlets to keep their licenses by not requiring annual renewal.

Thousands of people have been detained under the ISA in the last fifty years, typically critics of the government or suspected militants. The laws were most recently used in response to July 2011’s Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) rallies, against six members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia. More than 1,500 people were arrested in the Bersih 2.0 rallies when police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters and among those arrested were nine prominent human rights activists and opposition party figures who led the rally. The Bersih 2.0 alliance of civil society organizations has been campaigning for electoral reforms, transparency in government, and an end to the rampant corruption that colors Malaysian politics. When Razak came into power he promised the public reforms, but he has been slow in implementing them.

Freedom House welcomes the news and calls for government accountability in ensuring the ISA and other emergency laws, declarations and acts are fully repealed.  New laws must be passed to protect citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, expression and assembly.

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