Malaysia Mulls Return of Detention Without Trial After Shootings

Malaysia may restore its ability to detain people without trial following a wave of violent gun crime, two years after the practice was abolished to prevent political abuses, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

The government may designate a panel of police officers, judges and lawyers to determine who gets detained rather than leave the decision to the home minister as in the past, Hamidi told the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper yesterday. The interview was posted on Ahmad Zahid’s web site and the remarks were confirmed by a spokesman who was not authorized to be named.

The decision would be aimed at fulfilling Prime Minister Najib Razak’s vow to introduce new legislation to tackle the surge in crime, which included the July 29 slaying of AMMB Holdings Bhd. founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi. In the interview, Hamidi said the decision in 2011 to abolish Malaysia’s 1969 Emergency Ordinance, which led to the release of 2,600 people from detention, was partly to blame for the crime wave.

“The surge in violence is related to gangs and the drugs trade,” P. Sundramoorthy, a professor of criminology at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said in a phone interview today. “The Emergency Ordinance was necessary, though we acknowledge there were problems with it with regards to human rights and democracy. It was an effective tool.”

The law allowed suspects to be detained for as many as two years with the minister’s consent. Najib also scrapped the 1960 Internal Security Act, which gave police wide-ranging powers to detain suspects indefinitely. Opposition leaders including Anwar Ibrahim had been held under the ISA.

Recent Shootings

Najib cited the potential for political abuses among reasons for scrapping the laws. The same regulation remains in neighboring Singapore, another former British colony.

Last week saw three shootings in the northern city of Penang, including one man killed at point-blank range at a traffic light, according to an incidents list compiled by the Star newspaper and confirmed by police. An unemployed man was killed and a woman injured in Kelantan state. There was also a shooting at the Thai border, the list showed.

A primary school clerk was killed when a package he took from the top of a relative’s car exploded in Kelantan yesterday, the Star reported, citing local criminal investigations chief Lai Yong Heng.

Najib’s coalition was returned to power in May elections by its narrowest margin since independence from Britain in 1957. Najib promised during his campaign to make fighting crime and corruption a policy priority.

Voters cited crime and social problems as their biggest concern after the economy, according to a survey of 1,018 people conducted in December by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research. The survey had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

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