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Activists hold placards during a protest against an amendment to a 1959 crime prevention act that would give police a stronger hand, outside the parliament house in Kuala Lumpur on September 30, 2013. © 2013 MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Malaysian government should promptly repeal laws that permit detention without trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The Malaysian home minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, announced on December 30, 2018 that the government would amend, rather than rescind, the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 and the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, both of which permit detention without trial, but provided no details on the proposed amendments.

“Successive Malaysian governments have promised to abolish discredited laws that allow detention without trial, only to cave to pressure from Malaysia’s security forces,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Malaysia’s new government should live up to its reform agenda and abolish detention without trial once and for all.”

The Prevention of Crime Act reproduces most of the abusive provisions of Malaysia’s notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), which was repealed in 2012. The law allows police to detain suspects for up to 59 days with no judicial oversight. As with the ISA, a government-appointed board can impose detention without trial for up to two years, renewable indefinitely, order electronic monitoring, and impose other severe restrictions on the freedoms of movement and association, without judicial review.

“Permitting a government-appointed body to order indefinite detention without judicial review or trial is an open invitation to serious abuse,” Robertson said. “The Prevention of Crime Act creates conditions conducive to torture and denies suspects the right to challenge their detention or treatment.”

The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act allows the police to detain suspects for up to 28 days for a range of "security offenses" without seeking authorization from a court. For the first 48 hours, detainees can be denied access to a lawyer and to their family, seriously increasing the risk of abuse, Human Rights Watch said. The act also overrides Malaysia’s Rules of Evidence to permit the use of otherwise inadmissible evidence during security trials. Past authorities used the act’s provisions to detain Maria Chin Abdullah, the then chairperson of the Bersih election reform movement, the night before a major Bersih rally. She was held in solitary confinement for 11 days.

“Mere amendments to laws that allow detention without trial are doomed to result in future abuses,” Robertson said. “The government should repeal these laws and ensure that any replacement legislation restores judicial oversight of pre-trial detention in accordance with international fair trial standards.”

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