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Y.A.B. Dato’ Sri Hj. Mohd. Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Main Block, Perdana Putra Building
Federal Government Administrative Centre
62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia

Via facsimile: +60 3 8888 3444

Re: Detention of 13 Persons under the Internal Security Act

Dear Prime Minister Najib,

We write to express our serious concerns that the Malaysian government is backtracking on promises you made on September 15, 2011, to repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960. At that time you announced that the ISA would be repealed to bring Malaysia closer to “functional and inclusive democracy where peace and public order are safeguarded in line with the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights.”

Recent actions by the Malaysian authorities employing the ISA fly in the face of this promised reform. Between November 14-16, 2011, police in the Special Operations Force (Operation/Counter-Terrorism) arrested 13 people (7 Malaysian nationals, and 6 non-Malaysians) on suspicion of militant activities in Tawau division in the state of Sabah. They have reportedly been linked to the Abu Omar group, a Kalimantan-based group implicated in criminal activities.Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar alleged that the 13 persons held were seeking to “revive militant activities in Sabah.”

As of this writing, we understand the 13 are being held in police custody in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, under section 73(1) of the ISA. This provision permits police detention for 60 days without warrant or access to legal counsel, on suspicion that the targeted person “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.”

Human Rights Watch recognizes that states have a duty to provide security for the population, yet they need to do so in a matter that is consistent with their international legal obligations. The ISA’s provisions violate fundamental international human rights standards found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including prohibitions on arbitrary detention, guarantees of the right to due process, and the right to a prompt and impartial trial.

Should the Malaysian authorities have evidence that the 13 individuals committed offenses under Malaysia’s Criminal Code, they should be promptly brought before a court, publicly charged with specific criminal offenses, and given a fair trial in accordance with international standards. If there is insufficient evidence of crimes, the 13 should be immediately released.

The decision by Malaysian authorities to detain the 13 individuals under the ISA goes against your statement on September 15 recognizing that prolonged detention without trial is inconsistent with democratic governance and the rule of law. It also contravenes pledges Malaysia made to abide by international human rights standards when it ran for and won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

This case highlights the need for the government to address broader human rights concerns. The Malaysian government should immediately abolish the ISA, the Emergency Ordinances, and other repressive laws without passing new rights-restricting legislation in their place. Specifically, the government should abandon announced plans to enact two new laws under article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution, which would permit passage of laws with overly broad and vague security provisions that could be used to detain people without charge and deny basic freedoms.

We urge you, Mr. Prime Minister, to translate your bold pledges of reform on September 15 into immediate action, first in the case of the 13 detained persons in Sabah, and with legislative action to end unlawful preventive detention as a means of law enforcement that denies fundamental rights. 

Sincerely yours,

Phil Robertson
Deputy Director, Asia Division

Y.A.B. Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Muhyiddin Bin Mohd. Yassin, Deputy Prime Minister
Y.B. Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Bin Tun Hussein, Minister of Home Affairs
Y.B. Dato’ Sri Anifah Hj. Aman, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam)

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