Human rights observers and free speech advocates are condemning the Malaysian government’s continued use of the country's Internal Security Act to arrest opposition political leaders and journalists.
Raja Petra Kamarudin, founder and editor of the Malaysia Today Web site, and Tan Hoon Cheng, a reporter for the Sin Chew Daily, were detained September 12 under an article of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, or ISA, for allegedly threatening "security, peace and public order." Ms. Tan Hoon Cheng has subsequently been released.
However, on September 22, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albard authorized Raja Petra’s detention for two years. Earlier in September, Malaysian police also detained Teresa Kok, a member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Action Party, for allegedly violating the ISA. She was released after one week, with no charges ever filed by the government.
"The Malaysian government has taken its repression of dissenting voices to a new level," said Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "The Malaysian government is using this law as a repressive measure to control dissent," said Amnesty International in a statement issued September 12.
Over sixty people are reportedly being detained under the Internal Security Act. A vestige of British colonial rule, the ISA empowers police to arrest without warrant and hold up to sixty days any person who acts "in a manner prejudicial to the national security or economic life of Malaysia." In addition, access to legal counsel may be denied, and court proceedings may take place in secret. Upon the recommendation of an advisory board, the Home Minister may authorize further detention for up to two years, with an unlimited number of two-year periods to follow.
The Malaysian Bar Council (an independent body of legal professionals) has asserted that detentions under the Internal Security Act should be subject to full judicial review. However, Malaysian courts are not allowed to review procedural challenges to ISA detentions.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement issued September 18, "The United States firmly believes that national security laws, such as the ISA, must not be used to curtail or inhibit the exercise of universal democratic liberties or the peaceful expression of political views. The detention of opposition leaders under the ISA would be viewed by the United States and the international community as a fundamental infringement of democratic rights and values."