Malaysia Ends Unpopular Security Law

Posted September 16th, 2011 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says his country will abolish a half-century old security law that allows for people to be detained without trial.

Mr. Najib announced the abolition of the Internal Security Act Thursday in a nationally televised speech, saying it would be replaced with two new laws aimed at combating terrorism without infringing on basic human rights.

Thousands of people have been detained under the British colonial-era law.

The prime minister also announced the repeal of a law requiring media outlets to apply for annual operating licenses, which critics say has led to a stifling of dissenting voices. Mr. Najib went on to promise a review of a law that curbs freedom of assembly, and pledged that individuals would not be detained merely on the basis of their political views.

Clive Kessler, a professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales who has studied Malaysian society and politics, tells VOA Mr. Najib is attempting to

change the image of his ruling National Front coalition ahead of the next general elections, which are expected to be called in 2012, one year ahead of schedule.

But Kessler says Mr. Najib faces scrutiny over what laws will replace the Internal Security Act, and whether the government will attempt to impose new controls over the Internet, which has played a pivotal role in changing the country's political culture.

The National Front has been struggling since 2008, when it lost its parliamentary majority to an opposition coalition led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. The party's popularity has eroded further since police broke up a massive public rally for electoral reforms back in July.

Kessler says Mr. Najib faces the challenge of building support for his decision within the ruling coalition.