More than 100 people gathered outside a prison in northern Malaysia yesterday demanding the release of suspected militants and others held for years without trial.
The protesters -- rights activists, opposition party members and families of the detainees -- carried placards denouncing Malaysia's Internal Security Act, a draconian law left over from British colonial rule that allows the government to detain people indefinitely.
About 100 people, mainly suspected Islamic militants accused of being members of the al-Qaeda-linked regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, are being held under the act in Kamunting prison.
"Uncivilized laws that permit detention without trial should be abolished," said Chang Lih Kang of the human rights group Suaram. "Detaining people without giving them any opportunity to defend themselves is barbaric."
Police officials at the protest declined to comment. Internal Security Ministry officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Chang said the protest was organized after nine detainees had their four-year imprisonment extended by another two years on Friday.
"The government has failed to provide any evidence against the nine on the allegation that they were involved in militant activities," he said. "They have been detained for four years, and to further detain them is unjust to them and their families."
The nine men were rounded up in mid-2001 and accused of belonging to the then-unknown Malaysian Militant Group, or KMM, a Jemaah Islamiyah offshoot that wants to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. The government accused the KMM of staging bank robberies and contract killings to finance a revolution. Among the nine is Nik Adli Nik Abdul Aziz, son of Kelantan state's chief minister who is also the spiritual leader of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic party, the country's main opposition group.