British author of notorious Internal Security Act dies

The Associated Press
1 Mar 07

Reginald Hugh Hickling, a British lawyer, author and professor who drafted Malaysia’s notorious Internal Security Act used to detain scores of suspected criminals without trial, has died, local media reported Wednesday.

Hickling, 86, died after a short illness on Feb. 11 and is survived by his wife Beryl, three children and 12 grandchildren, the New Straits Times reported Wednesday.

Hickling served as the Assistant Attorney General in Malaysia’s Sarawak in 1950, then a British colony, and later assisted in the drafting of the Malayan, now Malaysian, constitution for the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.

He maintained in his writings and interviews that when he drafted the Internal Security Act in 1960, he did not foresee that the law could be arbitrarily used to detain suspects.

The law, which allows indefinite detention without trial, was used briefly against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim following disagreements with his mentor, former leader Mahathir Mohamad.

Other prominent victims have been opposition politicians, rights activists and suspected Islamic militants.

Currently, some 30 people are being held under the Act, mostly suspected Islamic militants allegedly linked to regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and alleged to have been plotting attacks to create a region pan-Islamic state and overthrow the government.

The same law has been used in neighboring Singapore to detain terror suspects, which was formerly part of Malaysia.

“I could not imagine then that the time would come when the power of detention, carefully and deliberately interlocked with Article 149 of the Constitution, would be used against political opponents, welfare workers and others dedicated to nonviolent, peaceful activities,” he wrote in 1989, according to the New Straits Times.

Article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution stipulates “special powers” for parliament against “subversion, organized violence, and acts and crimes prejudicial to the public” and powers during a declared emergency.

International rights groups have denounced the Act, which they say has been widely abused by authorities in both Malaysia and Singapore.

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