When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced last September that the country's infamous Internal Security Act would be repealed, he referred to tensions "between national security and personal freedom", and promised that new "legislation formulated will take into consideration fundamental rights and freedoms". Fast forward seven months to this April when parliament's Lower House, followed in short order by the Upper House, passed ISA's replacement, the 2012 Security Offences (Special Measures) Act. Unfortunately, this new bill does not go far enough to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of Malaysians. While this bill is not yet the law of the land, all that remains is for King, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, to assent and for the text to appear in the Federal Gazette with the date it will take effect.
A far better plan would be for Malaysia's policymakers to immediately scuttle this first attempt at replacing the ISA and seriously rethink what it means to protect national security concerns while simultaneously protecting the rights and freedoms of all Malaysia's people. There may yet be hope if influential allies of Malaysia, including the United States, publicly raise their concerns.
When the government initially tabled the new act, just a week before Lower House passage, longtime supporters for the repeal of the ISA cheered the announcement that the new act included a clause granting suspects the right to a fair trial, an option not available under the ISA. Rather, the ISA permitted 60 days of initial police detention, which could be followed by two years of detention, renewable ad infinitum, on the say-so of the home minister. In short, no trial and no judicial review.
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