Lawyers for Liberty refers to the ongoing hunger strike by the families of 69 detainees held without bail under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) outside Sungai Buloh Prison.
This rare public gathering of families of remand prisoners outside a major prison puts the spotlight on the cruelty and injustice of Sosma.
Under Section 13 of Sosma, bail “shall not be granted” for a person charged with a security offence under Sosma. This means that accused persons are condemned to languish in prison for years while awaiting trial, despite not being convicted.
This is a blatant negation of the sacrosanct principle of our justice system, that all persons are innocent until proven guilty. In the event of their acquittal, these lost years and the material and psychological damage done to the detainees and their families cannot be remedied.
It is harrowing that ordinary family members, including children, have had to resort to this extreme measure of hunger strike as a consequence of the current government’s outright refusal to repeal Sosma. Their desperation in going on the hunger strike exemplifies the cruel and arbitrary nature of this law; it is the only way for these powerless families to voice out in the face of the massive power of the state.
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This arduous period of detention in the dreadful conditions of Sungai Buloh Prison without being convicted is hell on earth for the detainees and their families. The current Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had himself complained of the conditions of his imprisonment in Sungai Buloh Prison. Has he forgotten this?
To make things worse for the prisoners and their families, Section 30 of Sosma also allows the further detention of the detainees even if they are acquitted should the prosecution appeal the acquittal.
This would mean many, many years before release, even if they are acquitted. This is a Kafkasque nightmare, in direct violation of the fundamental right to life and liberty under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.
There is no reason for the continued existence of Sosma; the crimes subject to its application are no different from other crimes and should be subjected to the normal procedure of trials and evidential rule under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act. The abrogation of due process authorised under Sosma has created the current situation of de facto detention without trial.
This was the position held by Pakatan Harapan (leaders) when they were in the opposition, which they immediately abandoned as soon as they got power. Barely a week after taking office, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail from PKR infamously declared that Sosma would be retained. It was the mother of all U-turns.
It is abhorrent that the so-called reformist coalition is so quick to go back on their promises and principles after holding power, despite making a show to the Malaysian public that they are proponents of the rule of law and fundamental liberties.
We hereby urge the government to honour their promise of repealing Sosma and to allow the application of normal criminal procedure to apply to all Sosma detainees. This must be announced immediately to allow the families to cease their hunger strike before they suffer serious health consequences and enable the current detainees to seek bail as soon as possible.
Meanwhile the operation of Sosma must be suspended by the government. A government that is truly premised on reform would not allow the continued existence of laws allowing detention without trial or conviction under its rule.
Zaid Malek is a director of Lawyers for Liberty