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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

A ray of light shines in troubled Malaysia

A small piece of encouraging, if somewhat ambiguous, news has come out of Malaysia in recent days.

Most of the political news from that Southeast Asia nation has been negative recently, documenting a gradual slide into totalitarianism by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and his government.

Malaysia's impressive economic gains have not always been accompanied by equal gains in democracy and political freedom. Mahathir has jailed many of his rivals and shows an increasing impatience with critics — journalistic or otherwise.

But the rule of law remains alive in Malaysia. That was demonstrated in an impressive way recently by Hishamudin Mohamad Yunus, a high court judge in Kuala Lumpur. As recounted in a Washington Post editorial, Judge Hishamudin recently ordered the release of two anti-government activists who had been jailed for nearly two months without trial. They were among 10 opposition critics who were arrested under the Internal Security Act, which grants broad unilateral powers to the government.

In releasing the two, Hishamudin criticized the government for failing to provide evidence of an alleged plot as required under the Internal Security Act.

In fact, the judge said it was time for Malaysia to abolish the act, an inheritance from the British, who used it during colonial times to fight communist insurgency.

He's right. Malaysia has shown tremendous progress since it achieved independence from the British. The last thing it needs is to maintain a colonial, draconian attitude toward its own citizens.