The lower chamber of the Malaysian Parliament [official website, in Malay] on Tuesday approved a law aimed at replacing the country's controversial Internal Security Act of 1960 (ISA) [text, PDF; HRW backgrounder], which currently allows for indefinite detention of terror suspects, dissidents and political opponents. Parliament introduced the legislation [JURIST report], known as the Security Offences Act of 2012, earlier this month. The Act would ensure that suspects must be released or brought to court within 28 days in custody, and also stipulates that people cannot be jailed simply for their political beliefs. The Act is part of Prime Minister Najib Razak's [official profile] plan to reform laws [JURIST report] many consider to be oppressive. The prime minister originally announced [JURIST report] that the government would repeal the ISA as well as the Banishment Act of 1959 [text] in September and initiated the repeal [JURIST report] in October. Despite supporting the changes to the law, the Prime Minister's office indicated that the ISA had been useful [New Straights Times report] in preventing serious terroristic threats. Supporters of the law maintain that the law will help continue reform efforts within the country [AP report] while balancing human rights interests with the interests of the community. Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], have been critical of the law [press release] stating that the law is setting the stage for future rights abuses, and maintaining that the law vests too much authority in the police, rather than with an independent judiciary. The law must now be approved by the upper house of the parliament and the constitutional monarch before it can go into effect.
Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Malaysia to take into consideration international human rights standards. In October 2011, after the prime minister's announcement, the Malaysian government released 125 prisoners [JURIST report] who were held in detention under the Restricted Residence Act of 1933. Malaysia's internal security laws were heavily criticized in the past by various human rights organizations. In June 2010, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] recommended [JURIST report] Malaysia repeal or amend its security laws to conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. In 2009, the Abolish ISA Movement [advocacy blog] initiated a demonstration against the law in which 10,000 to 20,000 people participated and resulted in 589 arrests. Of those arrested, 29 were charged [JURIST report] for their involvement in the rallies. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy website] had also called [JURIST report] Malaysia to abolish the ISA in 2008.