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(Bangkok) – The Malaysian government should immediately scrap proposed amendments to a law that would reinstate detention without trial for people the authorities believe have committed “two or more serious offenses,” Human Rights Watch said today. 

The Malaysian parliament is scheduled to vote on revisions to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, which is supported by Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, as soon as October 4, 2013.

“Malaysia is taking a huge step backwards on rights by returning to administrative detention practices much like the draconian Internal Security Act,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By doing so, Prime Minister Najib is backing methods that do little to curtail crime but threaten everyone’s liberty.”  

The draft amendments allow detention for up to two years without trial if the authorities determine that it is in the interests of “public order,” “public security,” or “prevention of crime” – terms not defined – and a three-person “Prevention of Crime Board” finds that the person has committed two or more serious offenses “whether or not he is convicted thereof.” People can also be detained without trial for having been found to have failed to comply with a supervisory order. The bill would allow a detention order to be renewed indefinitely in increments not exceeding two years. 

The Prevention of Crime Boards are to consist of a former judge of the Federal, Appeals, or High Court, and two other people whose qualifications are not specified. No judicial review is permitted of the board’s decisions except on compliance with procedural requirements set out in the Prevention of Crime Act. Suspects have no right to representation by legal counsel during any inquiry initiated under the board to determine evidence to be used in the board’s decision. 

The board’s operations and decisions will be kept from public view by a provision in the proposed amendments that shields the board, any member of the board, and any inquiry officer from disclosing information about the board’s work that “he considers to be against the public interest to disclose or produce.”

In calling for the repeal of the Internal Security Act in September 2011, Najib said that Malaysia will be a “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 become a reality.”

“Prime Minister Najib’s efforts to jam a law through the parliament that represses basic rights do very little for Malaysia’s global reputation,” Robertson said. “Responses to crime require a rights-sensitive approach entirely absent from this legislation.”

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