KL mulls 'return of detention without trial, but with checks'

MALAYSIA - Under pressure to end the spate of almost-daily killings that have hit the country recently, the Malaysian government is seeking to bring back detention without trial, but with wider oversight.

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in the first such announcement, said the powers of his office to order detention without trial might be transferred to a panel of professionals to check abuses of power.

The panel, he told Mingguan Malaysia, the Sunday edition of the Utusan Malaysia daily, would be made up of police officers, judges and public prosecutors. It would not include politicians.

"(The authority to detain without trial) will not rest on any individual but on a committee that will conduct the evaluation," he was quoted as saying in the interview published on Sunday.

Political analysts called the move regressive and against Malaysian civil society's demands that arbitrary detention of individuals be abolished.

Still, they said the government had to do something to reduce crime. Incidences of violent crime surged in the first half of the year even as overall crime levels fell.

Political analyst Hamdan Adnan at Universiti Malaysia Sabah said the government's choice of members for the panel would be key. He said human rights groups should play a role, and there must be a cap on how long someone could be detained without trial.

The authorities have blamed the recent crime wave on the repeal in 2011 of the Internal Security Act (ISA), Restricted Residence Act and Emergency Ordinance (EO) - all of which allowed detention without trial.

The ISA has been replaced by an anti-terrorism law called the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act; the others do not have any direct replacements. The Sedition Act is also set to be replaced, by laws governing race relations.

The repeal of the EO and Restricted Residence Act led to the release of 2,600 detainees. The police say they included hardcore criminals and gang leaders, who have been fighting a turf war over the past few months.

Six people have been shot dead in the past two weeks in suspected gang feuds; in all, there have been 30 shootings since April 12. On Sunday, a parcel bomb exploded in Tumpat, Kelantan, killing a 32-year-old primary school clerk.

According to local media, some Malaysians have stopped going out at night to restaurants, and 24-hour clinics are closing earlier.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's government repealed the unpopular laws in response to public pressure following crackdowns on a major protest calling for electoral reform in mid-2011.

lestkong@sph.com.sg

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