Malaysia revives indefinite jail, opposition labels it repression

By Eileen Ng ,AP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang had just been elected an opposition lawmaker in Malaysia’s Parliament three days earlier when racial riots between ethnic Chinese and Malays broke out on May 13, 1969. The government named Lim a suspected instigator and arrested him a few days later.

No charges were filed. There was no trial, and no guarantee he would ever be freed. The law under which he was arrested �X the Internal Security Act �X ensured that he could be held indefinitely. For life, if the government so wished.

So it was with great relief and euphoria that Malaysia welcomed the abolition of the law by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2012. The joy was short-lived. Last week, after hours of debate in Parliament, where Najib’s ruling coalition has a majority, the government passed a new law that critics say is the ISA in another garb.

��Malaysia is regressing into a period of dark ages. This is very, very disturbing,�� Lim, 74, said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.

The government says the new Prevention of Terrorism Act, which also allows detention without trial, is aimed at curbing Islamic militancy amid fears that the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East could be spreading its tentacles to Asian countries with Muslim populations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and Pakistan to find recruits.

Some 92 people have been detained over the past two years for allegedly supporting IS, including 17 arrested on April 5 for planning attacks in Kuala Lumpur, under another law that does not allow indefinite detention.

About 60 percent of Malaysia’s 24 million people are Muslims, most of whom have little sympathy for Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

But critics such as Lim fear that the new law is a sign that authoritarian politics is returning to Malaysia to crush dissent as public support for the government erodes rapidly. It fared poorly in the 2008 general elections when for the first time the ruling National Front coalition could not win a two-thirds majority in Parliament, coming to power with only a simple majority. In the 2013 election, it won a majority of seats but lost the popular vote.

Najib’s own position in the ruling party is threatened. He is also saddled with allegations of mismanagement at a debt-laden state investment company and efforts to link him to the death of a Mongolian woman nine years ago. He also implemented an unpopular new goods and services tax this month to boost government revenue amid a weaker economy.

��If history is an indicator, then these new laws could potentially be very important tools for the regime to hang on to power before the next elections due in 2018. The new laws can ensure opponents are crippled before they can contest,�� political analyst Ibrahim Suffian told the AP.