KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's prime minister has defended a proposal to bring back detention without trial, as protesters on Monday accused him of breaking a vow to do away with draconian laws.
Around 30 activists, rights lawyers, and members of the public staged a protest march to parliament in Kuala Lumpur over the government's bid to amend a 1959 crime-prevention act.
The change would allow police to hold suspects for years without charge, critics say.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's government has justified the move by saying police need a stronger hand to deal with a wave of violent crime that has erupted in recent months.
Speaking during an overseas trip, Najib 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," the national news agency Bernama quoted Najib saying.
Activists and the opposition, however, accuse 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 Najib's earlier pledges.
"I don't buy this talk about crime, because we have enough legislation to fight it."
Under public pressure for reform, Najib in 2011 abolished the tough Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance (EO).
Both had allowed detention without trial, and critics say they were abused by the 56-year-old ruling coalition to silence dissent.
"I have no confidence they won't abuse it, because this is what they've done before," Ambiga told reporters of the proposed amendments.
Malaysians have been shocked by a recent surge in gun violence.
Police and security officials blame the violence on criminals they say were freed when the EO was scrapped, and have pushed for reinstatement of preventive-detention powers.
Police-reform advocates, however, have said existing legislation is adequate and that the recent events have exposed glaring shortcomings in the police force's ability to protect the public.