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Malaysia urged to release 6 opposition leaders

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged the government of Malaysia [BBC profile] to release six leaders [text] of the opposition Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) [party website, in Malay] who are being held for organizing a rally [official website; JURIST report] earlier this month. Originally they were charged with "preparing to wage war against the king," but were released and then immediately re-arrested and held under the Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance (EO) [text, PDF], a law that provides for the government to detain someone indefinitely without trial. The EO has been in place since 1969, and its repeal has been sought by HRW [report text] since 1996. The six are reportedly being held in solitary confinement, blindfolded and subjected to continual intense interrogations. There were an additional 21 PSM members who were arrested and are still charged, but are freed on bail. The six have habeas corpus hearings scheduled for Friday in Kuala Lumpur High Court [official website], but it is unknown if the political prisoners will be permitted to attend.

Last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] urged Malaysia to repeal or amend its internal security laws [JURIST report], which allow indefinite detainment without trial. At the end of an official visit, the group said amending the laws would allow Malaysia to conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. Malaysia's internal security laws have been heavily criticized. Last August, a Malaysian court charged 29 protesters [JURIST report] for their alleged involvement in rallies against the country's Internal Security Act. The demonstration was allegedly started by the Abolish ISA Movement [advocacy blog]. The law was protested by an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people in Kuala Lumpur, resulting in 589 arrests and the use of tear gas and water cannons by police. The protesters were charged with aiding an illegal organization or participating in an illegal rally since a police permit was not obtained. At the time, Prime Minister Najib Razak [official website; BBC profile] dismissed the protest as being unnecessary since he previously pledged to review the controversial law.

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