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Malaysia Lawmakers Approve Controversial Detention Law

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) reads his oath declaration in front of Malaysia's King Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah as he is sworn in for his second term as prime minister, May 6, 2013.
Malaysian lawmakers have approved controversial changes to a security law that would allow authorities to detain people for years without charging them with any crime.

Under the changes, suspects could be held without trial for up to two years if they are deemed a public security threat, a term that rights groups say is too vague. The detention orders could be renewed indefinitely if a panel finds the suspects committed serious offenses.

Malaysia's lower house of parliament approved the changes to the 1959 Prevention of Crime Act early on Thursday; they are expected to soon be endorsed by the upper house and signed by the country's constitutional monarch.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and his long-ruling coalition argue the changes are necessary to deal with a wave of organized crime and have vowed the amendment will not be abused.

Those promises have done little to satisfy rights groups and opposition leaders, who say it represents a return to officially sanctioned indefinite detention just two years after the government repealed a similar law that was sometimes used to jail dissidents.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said the proposed changes would be a "huge step backwards on rights by returning to administrative detention practices much like the draconian Internal Security Act."

Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director, says said the proposal would "do little to curtail crime but threaten everyone's liberty."