KAMUNTING, Malaysia, April 5, 2009 (AFP) - Malaysia on Sunday freed 13 people detained under controversial security laws, police said, after new Prime Minister Najib Razak ordered their release.
Najib was sworn in on Friday and announced in his maiden speech that he was revoking a ban on two newspapers and releasing 13 people held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial.
"All 13 are released today, they will be placed under police supervision," police chief Musa Hassan told AFP.
The 13 were greeted by family members and hundreds of supporters as they left the detention centre in northern Perak state where they were held, while riot police guarded the entrance.
Najib had said their release was good for Malaysia, and denied it was a bid to win back support for the ruling party.
Among those freed were two ethnic Indian leaders, lawyers V. Ganabatirau and R. Kengadharan of the banned Hindraf group who were detained for mounting a rally alleging discrimination against minority ethnic Indians in December 2007.
Three other Hindraf leaders remained in detention.
"This is the moment that the whole family is waiting for but I hope the new prime minister will hear the Indian community's plea to release the three others Hindraf leaders as well," Ganabatirau's brother, V. Papparaidu, told AFP.
A. Kannappan, a 56-year-old businessman who managed to shake hands with the Hindraf duo outside the detention centre as they left, said they "look healthy and were smiling".
Of the others who were also freed, seven were believed to be members of the Darul Islam religious group and three were foreigners accused of falsifying government documents.
The last was a suspected member of the Al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group.
Rights group lauded the move, but urged the government to free the remaining 27 people, mainly suspected Islamic militants, held under the ISA or charge them in court.
"There are people who have been held more than seven years without trial and most of them were facing the same kind of allegations as those who were released today," Abolish ISA Movement spokesman Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh told AFP.
The ISA, which dates back to the British colonial era when it was used against communist insurgents, has earned notoriety in recent years as critics accuse the government of using the law to silence its opponents.