KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 7 (UPI) -- Malaysia has passed a controversial anti-terrorism bill that reintroduces detention without trial after it was abolished for three years.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act passed early Tuesday after more than 10 hours of debate with a vote of 79 to 60.
Hours before the bill passed, police announced the detention of 17 suspected militants, one as young as 14, who are accused of attempting to attack police stations and army bases in Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital, to acquire weapons.
The new law bypasses Malaysia's judiciary, allowing detention of people at the discretion of police for up to 59 days.
Suspects can then be held for renewable periods of two years for an unlimited amount of time, depending on decisions by a Prevention of Terrorism Board, whose members are appointed by Malaysia's sultan.
Human Rights Watch denounced the bill's passing, calling it a "a giant step backwards for human rights."
Prime Minister Najib Razak repealed the Internal Security Act, which allowed indefinite detention without trial, in April 2012 due to criticism the law was being used for political suppression.
"The draft counterterrorism law is like a legal zombie returned from the grave of the discredited and abusive Internal Security Act," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, said of the introduction of the anti-terrorism bill in a statement. "By proposing this legislation, the Malaysian government is signalling its willingness to return to Malaysia's past policies of repression."
"These proposed laws reflect the continuing deterioration of human rights protection in Malaysia," Robertson added.