Rights groups criticise Malaysia threat to use security law


Kuala Lumpur : Lawyers and human rights groups in Malaysia Wednesday criticised the government’s threat to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) to suppress street demonstrations like the one held by the ethnic Indian community Sunday.

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The threat to use the ISA came from Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, after a confrontation between the police and over 10,000 ethnic Indian demonstrators.

The security act — enacted in the early 1960s during a national state of emergency to put down a communist insurrection — has been criticised by both international and domestic human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Malaysian Bar Council, and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission on grounds that it violates fundamental international standards.

The Bar Council, which represents about 12,000 lawyers, said that invoking the law would be retrogressive, counterproductive, and high handed, the online edition of Asia Sentinel reported.

“Gone are the days when force could be used to solve our problems. We are entering a new era of openness and democracy. A vital part of that process is to hear the voice of the people and to heed their call,” the council said in a statement.

Under the ISA, the police may detain any person for up to 60 days without warrant or trial and without access to legal counsel, on suspicion that “he has acted or is about to act or is likely to act in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to maintenance of essential services therein or to the economic life thereof.”

After 60 days, the Minister of Home Affairs can then extend the period of detention without trial for up to two years, without submitting any evidence for review by the courts, by issuing a detention order, which is renewable indefinitely.

The rally by ethnic Indians was in support of a $4 trillion lawsuit filed in London by Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) this August, demanding that Britain compensate Malaysian Indians for bringing their ancestors to the country as indentured labourers.

The demonstrators also claimed they were being marginalized in Malaysia. Ethnic Indians here have repeatedly complained that they are discriminated against in terms of education, religion and opportunities in the country.