KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government yesterday proposed a legal amendment allowing crime suspects to be detained for years without trial, prompting opposition charges that it was reneging on promises to scrap tough security laws.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government proposed in parliament amendments to the 1959 Prevention of Crime Act, saying the police need strong powers to fight a wave of violent crime in recent months.
Najib had only just abolished such powers -- which critics have long complained were abused by the authoritarian government to silence dissent -- in 2011 in the face of public pressure for a more open society.
The opposition immediately branded the proposed amendment as a dangerous U-turn on rights.
“The government is setting back the clock and dragging us back to the era of arbitrary arrest and detention,” N Surendran, a senior leader of the opposition People’s Justice Party, said in a statement.
Facing ebbing support for his long-ruling coalition and after large street protests for electoral reform, Najib in 2011 abolished the draconian Internal Security Act and the separate Emergency Ordinance (EO). Both allowed lengthy detention without trial. Najib sought to portray himself as a reformer before elections that were held this May, in which his coalition retained power.
However, the three-party opposition alliance stunned the government by winning a majority of the popular vote for the first time ever.