Law reforms must be far-reaching and progressive
While the recently announced repeal of two draconian security laws and amendments to other restrictive laws are welcome, the Malaysian government must outline a concrete timeline to follow through with these promised reforms.
However, other existing laws, including the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Restricted Residence Act, and the Sedition Act, continue to place restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Malaysia must take additional steps to bring them into full compliance with international human rights law and standards.
In a speech on Sept 15, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announced that the government will repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) of 1960 and three emergency declarations, including the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance of 1969.
The Prime Minister also announced that the Banishment Act would be repealed and the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) will be amended to eliminate the requirement of annual publishing permits. Section 27 of the Police Act of 1967 will be amended to bring the law into line with international norms, said the Prime Minister.
Both the ISA and Emergency Ordinance (EO) allow for detention without trials for up to two years and can be renewed indefinitely. Civil society in Malaysia, including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) member organisation Suaram, has documented widespread abuses under these two laws. As many as 10,000 people have been detained under the ISA alone since 1960.
In July 2011, Malaysian authorities severely repressed peaceful activities of the Bersih 2.0 campaign and arrested opposition leaders under the EO, which is the latest example of the serious deterioration of the Malaysian government’s respect for basic freedoms and the rule of law.
FIDH urges the government to release all remaining individuals still detained under both laws and cease judicial intimidation against all political opponents and peaceful critics, including the 30 members of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) who have been given a discharge not amounting to acquittal on Sept 19 which means they could be charged with the same offence in the future.
While the Malaysian legislature should repeal these laws at the soonest, it must not stop there and should undertake a comprehensive review of all laws that have a deleterious effect on fundamental freedoms, and repeal or amend them to ensure their compliance with international human rights law and standards.
The Prime Minister also announced that the ISA and EO will be replaced by two new counter-terrorism laws that would still allow for preventive detention. FIDH is concerned that these two new laws would simply perpetuate the abusive practices under the ISA and EO in another.
Many existing counter-terrorism legislations around the world are found to be overly broad, vulnerable to arbitrary application, and undermine the rule of law and protection of basic rights, including fair trial rights.
It would make a mockery of democratic reform to replace the ISA and Emergency Ordinance with two equally draconian laws. The resort to extraordinary legislation with exceptional powers has been proven to undermine both human rights and the effectiveness of counter-terrorism strategies.
Malaysia should make the rule of law the center of its national security policy rather than to sideline it.