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PH-led government cannot defend draconian security law when their MPs voted against it

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Lawyers for Liberty refers to the statement made by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on 13 December in which he stated that the government has no intention of reviewing the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

We are disappointed and appalled that the Pakatan Harapan-led government will not review this draconian act, which facilitates custodial and other serious human rights abuses as well as long-term detention pending trial without bail.

Has PH so quickly forgotten the horrors of unlawful and arbitrary detention under Sosma when peaceful protest leaders and 1MDB scandal critics were detained by the old Barisan Nasional regime to silence them? It is this very same Sosma law which the new government now staunchly defends.

The fact that the detention under Sosma is “only 28 days”, as Saifuddin argues, does not change the fact that it is an unreasonably long period of detention without judicial oversight, which is in effect punishing alleged offenders before they have even had their day in court.

Beyond the 28 days of remand, detainees who are later charged with offences may also be detained indefinitely pending trial. Even if they are acquitted at trial, they can be further detained pending appeals at the Court of Appeal or Federal Court. In short, persons arrested under Sosma may spend many long years in jail although they are finally found innocent and acquitted.

It is shocking that PH, which as opposition in March 2022 defeated in the Dewan Rakyat the extension of Section 4(5) of Sosma, which allows the notorious 28-day detention, now when in power suddenly announces that there is no need to review the act. This is just plain unprincipled.

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The further irony is that the new home minister who made the 13 December announcement was among the MPs who voted against Sosma in Parliament just eight months ago.

Does a draconian law become magically acceptable when you are in government, when it was unacceptable when you were in opposition?

Making things worse is that the home minister also defended Sosma by saying that arrests made under the act are only done upon “reliable intelligence and evidence”. If that is truly the case, then there is no need for a lengthy detention and the offenders should be charged in court immediately.

The home minister, in another attempt at defending Sosma, claimed that detainees have access to legal counsel, woefully ignoring the fact that Sosma circumvents crucial protection and tested legal measures under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

Any trial conducted and conviction obtained under Sosma is a product of a sham trial as it does not provide the basic evidential rules that serve to ensure due process. Evidence that is normally inadmissible in normal criminal trials are accepted under Sosma, including evidence obtained by torture, duress or even fabrication.

Despite being in office for less than a week, the new government’s backtracking on such a draconian law as Sosma is a matter of grave concern. Are there more of such U-turns and backslidings on the rule of law and human rights to come?

Thus, we call upon the government to repeal Sosma in its entirely as it is untenable and makes a mockery of fairness in the criminal justice system. There is no reason or justification for Sosma to continue existing when the Criminal Procedure Code, Evidence Act, Penal Code and other laws are adequate to handle the type of cases that are now under Sosma.

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The new government must uphold the guarantee of life and liberty under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution in the highest regard without compromise or equivocation.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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