KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's leading human rights watchdog Thursday accused the government of committing rights violations this year that mark a return to the era of authoritarian former leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Suaram said in an annual report that despite reforms promised by Prime Minister Najib Razak when he came to power in 2009, the ruling coalition "continues to display intolerance towards dissent and free speech in 2010".
It said that the use of draconian internal security laws which allow for detention without trial, bans on public protests, and controls on publishing and the media were ominous.
"Taken together, all the incidents and controversies that have happened... signal a return to the Mahathir era, a period of stifling control, abuse of powers and suppression of human rights," said the report's author Hasbeemasputra Abu Bakar.
Mahathir, who ruled for more than two decades until 2003, was known for his tough stance against political opponents, many of whom were locked up under the tough Internal Security Act (ISA).
Hasbeemasputra said recent pledges to amend the ISA failed to address the "fundamental flaw of... detention without trial" and that the government uses the law as "as a tool to instil fear and stifle political dissent".
A relic of the British colonial era, the ISA has been used to detain alleged terrorists as well as government opponents in the past. Suaram says there are presently 15 people being held under the legislation.
The report said the government was also flouting the "constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of assembly" with the arrest of over 100 people taking part in street demonstrations this year.
And it said freedom of speech has been curtailed with the banning of several publications critical of the government, which it also accused of using publishing laws to "stifle dissent and alternative opinions".
All newspapers in Malaysia need a permit which must be renewed annually. The licensing system allows the government to close media outlets at will and puts publishers under pressure to toe the line.