KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will repeal a tough security law used to detain government critics without charge under the former government, according to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and activists on Monday hailed the “bold” vow.
It was the latest pledge by the country’s new reformist leaders to roll back repressive legislation introduced by scandal-hit Najib Razak, whose long-serving government was thrown out by voters in May.
Leading pro-democracy activists were among those arrested using the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA, introduced in 2012 purportedly to combat security threats from extremists.
It allows for suspects to be detained without charge for 28 days and can incur a lengthy prison sentence.
In a speech late Sunday, Mahathir said Najib used repressive laws to do “whatever he liked” and vowed to abolish SOSMA.
“The people will now be protected under laws that are fair and any offenses will be brought before and decided by the court,” he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.
Eric Paulsen, legal director of the Southeast Asia-focused rights group Fortify Rights, hailed the announcement as a “timely and bold move.”
“We demand that no one should be detained without trial or be a victim of arbitrary arrest,” he said.
One of the most high-profile figures detained under SOSMA was Maria Chin Abdullah, a former leader of the pro-reform group Bersih, which staged huge rallies against Najib’s government.
She was arrested on the eve of a demonstration in 2016 while still the head of Bersih and kept in solitary confinement for 10 days. She is now a member of parliament with the ruling alliance.
Najib launched a crackdown on government critics after allegations emerged he was at the center of a massive scandal linked to the 1MDB state fund. He was arrested this month and charged with corruption.
Mahathir himself, during a first stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, used repressive laws to target critics. More than 100 people, including opposition politicians and activists, were arrested and detained without trial during a major crackdown in 1987.