KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 - Malaysia Tuesday defended its detention without trial of suspected Muslim militants under a harsh security law, likening it to the US detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
"It's just like the process in Guantanamo," Rais Yatim, minister in charge of legal affairs, told a news conference after opening a two-day human rights conference.
"What happened to the cases that are still there and there was no due process? Similarly we have got the same treatment," he said.
"I put the equation to Guantanamo just to make it graphic to you that this is not simply a Malaysian style of doing things. When we know the propensity of creating a havoc through physical activities, we cannot take a double standard."
Some 680 people from 42 countries -- mostly captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 -- are being held without trial at the US base in Cuba in conditions that human rights groups have denounced as unacceptable.
Malaysia, a moderate Muslim nation, has detained 92 alleged militants over the past two years, including opposition members, under its Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows indefinite renewal of two-year detention orders.
Critics say the law is used to stifle political dissent but the government calls it a necessary tool against terrorism and political violence, and accuses many of the suspects of involvement with the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network.
Rais said that whether they would be brought to trial depended on the outcome of investigations.
Asked about criticism from countries such as Australia, he hit back saying: "If Australia likes it to be a free-for-all process, I welcome the idea. Let those JI guys go and dwell in Sydney or Melbourne or Perth."
Rais said public order and security laws in the country, including the ISA which was originally designed to combat a communist rebellion half a century ago, were currently being reviewed by a cabinet committee which he heads.
He said many of the laws were originally enforced decades ago to cope with "a series of tumultuous events" and the study would look at whether the laws were fair and relevant to current needs.
Rais said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States had changed the global perception towards such preemptive laws with the world "equipping themselves with (legal) instruments after instruments to safeguard public order."
"The fact is every country has to have a set of security laws. The culture of human rights must be imbued in the system, it is not something that we thrust upon the scene at one go," he said.
The security law study, which includes a comparison to similar laws in the United States, India, Singapore and South Africa, is expected to be concluded by the end of the year, he added. -AFP/zs
The above article appeared in Harakah on Wednesday, September 10, 2003