Malaysian police, under pressure to tackle a rise in violent crime, have arrested more than 200 people since the weekend under a little used law that enables them to hold suspects for 72 days without charge.
The crackdown comes as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak faces calls from hardliners in his ruling party to reverse his liberalization of colonial-era security laws that had long been used to stifle government opponents as well as crime.
After his ruling coalition won a narrow election victory in May, Najib could face a challenge from the conservative wing of the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation in party polls in October.
He said on Monday that his government was weighing the introduction of new laws that would balance the need to protect human rights with ensuring public order.
Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar said more than 200 people had been detained under a rarely used section of the 1959 Prevention of Crime Act, which was used to keep order when Malaysia was still a fledgling nation.
“We’re just carrying out our duty,” he said.
The police force and the government have come under pressure after a spate of high-profile violent crimes, including the daytime gun murder of a prominent banker in central Kuala Lumpur late last month.
N. Surendran, vice president of the opposition Keadilan party and a practicing lawyer, called the 72-day detention without charge period “dangerous and excessive.”
“The purpose of using this act is to punish the people arrested. We’re strongly against it,” he said.
Under the Prevention of Crime law, a suspect must appear before a magistrate within the first 24 hours of arrest before he can be held for up to 14 days. Two further extensions of 28 days each are possible with the consent of a magistrate.