Proposed Law Ban Draws Cautious Praise

The Catholic Lawyers Society of Malaysia has cautiously welcomed a plan to abolish the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA), which includes the right of detention without trial.

Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday announced the plan ahead of yesterday’s Malaysia Day celebration, and further stated that two new anti-terrorism laws will be tabled in parliament before elections next year.

“It is a move in the right direction,” said Joy Appukuttan, president of the society. “In the past the ISA has been abused especially to silence dissent. It is time the government did away with such a draconian law.”

Apukuttan added, however, that “it is hoped these two new laws are not a change of name for the ISA.”

Mabel Sebastian, former president of the society, characterized Najib’s announcement as “positive” and “good news” but cautioned that it would be necessary to “wait and see how this is followed through.”

Najib also announced amendments to several other controversial laws, such as replacing the annual renewal of publishing permits for newspapers with a one-off license, which could potentially be withdrawn.

Apukuttan said the society welcomes the proposed amendment to publishing permits because “publications and newspapers in the past had to live in fear that their annual licenses would not be renewed.”

He urged the government “to make good on its intentions immediately” and to take stepts to amend or abolish “other laws such as the Police Act and University Colleges Act that curtail peaceful assembly.”

Some remain skeptical of the prime minister’s announcement.

“Things may just become worse. Abolish the ISA, but enact two other laws. And what would stop a newspaper’s license from being revoked?” said Susan Loone, a Penang-based Catholic journalist. “The minister [of home affairs] still has the final say.”

Meanwhile, local media have reported that the human rights organization Suaram (Voice of the Malaysian People) has urged the government to form a truth and reconciliation panel to bring to closure collective anger over the law, in which the group says more than 10,000 people have been detained since it was enacted in 1960.

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