Malaysia to ease grip with new security law

Malaysia will no longer allow indefinite detention without trial or detain people for their political beliefs under a new law to be presented in parliament Tuesday.

The legislation would take the place of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which was used to detain a range of people including terror suspects and dissidents for extended periods and was heavily criticised by rights groups.

Prime Minister Najib Razak announced in September he would scrap the ISA in a drive to improve civil liberties in a country long known for authoritarian rule.

Najib has been courting voters ahead of polls expected to be called soon and which will likely be a tight battle against a resurgent opposition.

The new Security Offences (Special Measures) Act would allow the government to detain those deemed a security threat for a maximum of 28 days, after which they must be released or charged, according to a copy of the law seen by AFP.

It also singles out offenders such as document forgers and those who "excite disaffection" toward the country's monarchy as being subject to the same stipulations.

It says the law cannot be used to punish people solely for their political beliefs.

"No person shall be arrested and detained under this section solely for his political belief or political activity," the law reads.

Opposition politicians complain, however, that other laws such as a sedition law have been used recently against government critics and remain on the books.

The new law states that if a person is acquitted by a trial court, the public prosecutor can apply for the person to remain in prison until "all appeals are disposed of".

The law is expected to be presented in parliament later Tuesday and be approved at a later date owing to the simply majority held by Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition government.

Critics have slammed Najib's reform pledges as insincere ploys to garner voter support after Barisan Nasional suffered its worst performance ever at the last polls in 2008 amid corruption, high-handedness and other complaints.

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