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(New York) - The Malaysian government must either charge or release the scores of detainees held indefinitely under its draconian 1960 Internal Security Act (ISA), Human Rights Watch said today. Earlier this month, the authorities extended by two years the detention of eight men already held for four years without charge or trial.

In early June the government extended the detention of Azmi Khan Mahmood, Jaafar Saldin, Mat Sah Mohd Satray, Shakom Shahid, Yusrin Haiti, Mazlan Ishak, Syed Ali Syed Abdullah, and Shamsuddin Sulaiman, who have been detained without trial since April 2002.

The government accuses all eight of being members of Jemmah Islamiah, a militant Islamist group. In early 2006, the government extended the detention of 17 other ISA detainees accused of belonging to Jemmah Islamiah.

On February 20, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi called on the United States to close Guantánamo Bay detention center, Human Rights Watch noted as it reiterated its call for the Internal Security Act to be repealed and for those detained under it to be charged, tried or released.

“Abdullah has urged the U.S. to close Guantánamo, yet his own government is holding detainees indefinitely without charge or trial,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The Malaysian government must charge or release these detainees.”

Kamunting Detention Center in Perak holds more than 100 ISA detainees without charge or trial. More than 60 of the detainees are accused of associating with Islamist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah and Kumpulan Mujahiddin Malaysia. The government has recently expanded its use of the Internal Security Act to include individuals accused of counterfeiting and forging documents.

Many detainees have now been held for more than four years without trial or any judicial review of the merits of their detention.

“Indefinite detention causes extreme hardship for detainees and their families,” said Adams. “It is cruel, contrary to human rights standards, and should end.”

The wife of an ISA detainee, whose detention has been extended after he was already held for four years in Kamunting told Human Rights Watch: “This was very cruel. The government did not explain to my husband why his detention was extended. He was very sad. I am sad. I have not yet told our 13-year-old son. He will be very upset. He was looking forward to his father’s release.”

“The government has all the power,” she added. “I don’t know what we can do. If my husband did anything wrong, then charge him. Why make us all suffer this way?”

In December, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, expressed concern that the “ISA is not in accordance with international human rights standards,” and requested information from the Malaysian government on whether the law will be amended or repealed.

Since 1960 the Internal Security Act has been misused by the ruling United Malay National Organization to silence critics, resulting in the detention of more than 10,000 people, some of whom have been held for up to a decade. Some ISA detainees have alleged that they have been tortured and ill-treated, including more than 25 ISA detainees who alleged that they were beaten and humiliated by prison guards in Kamunting Detention Center in December 2004.

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