Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak went on national television last week to announce the repeal of the increasingly controversial Internal Security Act 1960.
"Generally, the power to extend the detention period will shift from the executive to the judiciary, except in matters concerning terrorism," Najib said.
From now on, extension of detention can be done only through a court order, except in the law concerning terrorism where the power remained with the minister, he said.
The government will focus on formulating two new laws, which likely will result in shorter detention periods. Also, the laws will be carefully set out to ensure people wouldn't be detained because of their political beliefs, Najib said.
The repeal announcement was the highlight of a brace of statements on security laws.
Najib also said the government would repeal the Banishment Act 1959 and will start a review of the Restricted Residence Act 1993 and the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984 where annual license renewals would be done away with.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the announcements were the result of two years work since setting out the intention during the election campaign in April 2009.
"He announced this two years ago," Hussein said. "The prime minister has fulfilled part of what he had promised in the Political Transformation Program.
"People can judge for themselves the courage needed in doing something unexpected, which was not leaked, politicized or exploited over the past two years."
Hussein said the two replacement laws would be modeled after the Patriot Act in the United States, the Anti-Terrorism Act in the United Kingdom and Australia's laws on terrorism.
He gave no date for enactment of the new laws.
Also to come under review is Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, which allows police to restrict freedom of assembly, a highly controversial law that opposition parties decry as curtailing their right to political rallies, especially during elections.
During his announcement, Najib stressed police still would take stern action against street demonstrators.
Democratic Action Party Chairman, Member of Parliament and lawyer Karpal Singh -- a once a detainee under the ISA -- welcomed the news as long overdue.
"The act has survived for the past 60 years, it should no longer exist and it was a very bold move by the prime Minister. However, the government should look into repealing all prevention-without-trial laws and not just the Security Act."
Singh was arrested in October 1987 for inciting racial tension and released in March 1988. He was re-arrested immediately and held in prison until January 1989. He was deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
Anti-ISA Movement President Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said the repeal was "great news" because it's a repeal rather than an amendment which Najib had been working toward earlier.
"It means that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary and dubious detention without trial, mental and physical abuse, and rid the police and Home Affairs minister of arbitrary powers," he said.
Police were quick to issue statements saying their fight against terrorism wouldn't be hindered.
"Where terrorism or militant activities are concerned, we will still not be hampered in carrying out our duties," Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said.
"We have been entrusted with maintaining internal security and public order and will continue doing so even without the ISA. Emergency laws are no longer needed in this time and age," he told the New Straits Times.
Omar said the government's move was in line with the country's goal of achieving developed nation status by 2020.
The repeal will usher in an era of police openness, former police officer Selva Kumar told the New Straits Times.
"Investigations will now have to be more overt and transparent," he said. "Human rights play an important factor in our society today. So this is a timely move."
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