KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's prime minister has defended a proposal to bring back detention without trial, as protesters yesterday accused him of breaking a vow to do away with draconian laws.
Speaking during an overseas trip, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the amendment was aimed at fighting organised crime, and would not be abused to squelch political challenges.
"We will make sure that no one will be victimised," Bernama quoted Mr Najib as saying.
About 30 activists, rights lawyers and members of the public staged a protest march to Parliament in Kuala Lumpur.
The change in the Prevention of Crime Act would allow police to hold suspects for years without charge, critics said.
The government has justified the move by saying that the police need a stronger hand to deal with a wave of violent crime that has erupted in recent months.
But activists and the opposition accuse Mr Najib of reneging on an earlier promise to move away from decades of authoritarian rule.
"We were absolutely taken for a ride," election-reform activist Ambiga Sreenevasan said of Mr Najib's earlier pledge.
"I don't buy this talk about crime, because we have enough legislation to fight it."
Under public pressure for reform, Mr Najib in 2011 abolished the tough Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance (EO).
Both had allowed for detention without trial, and critics said they were abused by the 56-year-old ruling coalition to silence dissent.
Malaysians have been shocked by a recent surge in gun violence.
The police and security officials blame the violence on criminals whom they say were freed when the EO was scrapped, and have pushed for the reinstatement of preventive-detention powers.