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Malaysian civil-society coalition accuses Penang police of abusing their powers

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The Abolish ISA Movement (Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA), a coalition of 83 non-governmental organisations, trade unions and political parties has accused the police of abusing their powers and threatening to detain political protesters without trial.

The Abolish ISA Movement (GMI), a coalition of 83 non-governmental organisations, trade unions and political parties, have accused the police in Penang of abusing their powers and threatening to detain protesters under a law which allows detention without trial.

According to Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a FORUM-ASIA member in Malaysia, Penang police chief Salleh Mat Rashid threatened to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) against those who participated in last week’s rally in Georgetown and against those who sent SMS messages via their mobile phones about the rally. Under Malaysian law, people need a police permit to rally.

SUARAM, which is also a GMI member, added that the ISA provided for indefinite detention without trial, violated personal liberties and denied people the right to a trial, the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel.
“There were sufficient laws in place to tackle rioting and the incitement of hatred and violence, and if such crimes were committed, police were empowered to make arrests and prosecute the suspects in court,” said SUARAM in its statement, which is now available on its website.

“By resorting to the ISA, police were taking the easy way out by not having to prove cases in court, which was tantamount to the abuse of powers,” the NGO added.

GMI, including SUARAM, has consistently called for the abolition of the ISA and all forms of detention without trial and the release of ISA detainees in the Kamunting detention camp.

The protestors in the Penang rally were part of the ruling party – UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) – who felt sidelined after the state fell into the hands of the Opposition in the recent general elections. The latter recently proposed an end to the National Economic Policy, which guarantees special rights for Malays, the dominant ethnic group in Malaysia.The Opposition has often claimed that the NEP, launched to eradicate poverty and promote equality between the different races in the country in 1970, has been abused by the ruling party to maintain their political hold on the nation.