Malaysia faces backlash over push for tough new laws

Malaysia faces backlash over push for tough new laws

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's bid to bring back detention without trial and toughen a range of other laws has triggered a backlash from civil society groups who call the move politically motivated and a major step back for human rights.

Home Minister Zahid Hamidi was due to debate the proposed changes in parliament on Monday, justifying them as necessary to battle a rise in violent crime, as the government tries to push through the controversial bills this week.

The proposed amendments appear to mark a reversal of Prime Minister Najib Razak's steps in recent years to repeal draconian security laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), that were sometimes used to jail government critics.

They come weeks ahead of a ruling party assembly where Najib faces pressure to make concessions to hard liners, following a weak election result in May that cut the ruling coalition's majority, undermining the prime minister's moderate agenda.

"After the election they are showing their real colours,"said Nalini Elumanai, executive director of human rights group Suaram. "It's not because they want to curb crime. They want to stop the civil society movements, that's the real motive."

The tougher laws come as Najib's dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) struggles to retain its traditional grip on the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation in the face of growing demand for more freedoms.

Najib attempted to rebrand UMNO after a dismal election showing in 2008, liberalizing security laws and pledging to phase out privileges for majority ethnic Malays.

But he is widely seen as having been pegged back by UMNO traditionalists, particularly after May's election, in which minority ethnic Chinese and most urban voters rejected the ruling coalition.

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