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Malaysian leader launches security law overhaul

Malaysia's prime minister launches moves in Parliament to revoke strict security laws as part of his new pledge to protect civil liberties

AP , Monday 3 Oct 2011
Najib Razak
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak
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The biggest overhaul of Malaysia's security policies in decades is expected to culminate in March with the repeal of the Internal Security Act, a law that has enabled the government to detain thousands of suspects without trial in the past, including opposition critics, labour activists and alleged militants.

Prime Minister Najib Razak promised last month that several laws long criticised by rights groups would be annulled. Opposition leaders consider it an effort to shore up the ruling coalition's support ahead of national elections expected by mid-2012.

Najib tabled bills in Parliament's lower house on Monday to abolish two less-recognised laws that allow authorities to restrict the movement of suspects and to banish foreigners from the country.

The government has been working on ways to "find a balance between individual human rights, civil liberties and the assurance of public peace," Najib said.

One of the laws mentioned on Monday, the Restricted Residence Act, has been used by police to control the whereabouts and closely monitor suspects including teenagers accused of being motorcycle thieves, illegal football betting operators and alleged gang members.

Officials defended the laws previously, saying they were needed to curb threats to public stability in cases where evidence against suspects was insufficient.

Malaysian rights activists have cautiously welcomed Najib's efforts, noting that the government still plans to introduce new laws to replace those abolished. Najib has promised the new laws would provide for more judicial oversight and only permit the detention of terrorists.

Parliament's lower house is likely to debate and pass the first two bills this month before submitting them to the senate and the country's constitutional monarch for their final approval.

On Monday, the government also tabled a bill to create a bipartisan parliamentary panel to study possible reforms in electoral laws over the next six months. The initiative comes after tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in Kuala Lumpur in July to demand a cleanup of voter registration lists and tighter measures to prevent electoral fraud.

Najib's National Front coalition has governed since 1957, but it has struggled in recent years to tackle accusations of rampant corruption and racial discrimination. The coalition is eager to secure a stronger mandate in the next election after the opposition won one-third of Parliament's seats and wrested several states in 2008 polls.

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