Unless there is a paradigm cultural shift in how the institutions of justice operate, any changes in repressive laws will not bring about the desired change, writes Ronald Benjamin.
The government should be congratulated for tabling the Security Offences Bill 2012 in Dewan rakyat on 10 April 2012. This bill has replaced the ISA, which has been abused over the years in the name of political stability and national security.
A prominent Malaysian intellectual has said that the bill enhances executive accountability: the police as an executive arm will now have to conduct thorough investigations of alleged security offenders with all instruments of the law at their disposal within a specific time frame.
While such a leap is good news on paper for Malaysians in general, there is concern whether such a bill would be abused especially when the independence of the investigative, procecution and judicial institutions (the police, Attorney General’s Chambers and the Judiciary) are in question.
Some aspects of the security law may have been somewhat democratised. But seen from the perspective of the right to dissent, the culture of subservience among the institutions of state that are responsible for justice has eclipsed whatever gains that come with the new security law. The reasons are obvious.
First, over the years there have been various serious allegations on security-related issues brought about by concerned and courageous citizens against powerful personalities in politics, law enforcement and security. A few have even been implicated in the murder of a Mongolian model while a high-ranking police personnel has been linked to underground criminals; yet, there appears to be very little action taken by the authorities to bring the real culprits to book. Is it not true that a court of law has deliberately omitted the motive in the case of the murder of the Mongolian model in Malaysia?
What is the use of democracy and accountability in the Security Offences Bill when it is only related to the relationship between authority and dissidents while on the other hand covering up the wrong-doings of those who are in authority themselves? Have we replaced the ISA with the ‘Internal-Security-for-the-Authorities’ Act? Are the positions of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Inspector General of Police and Attorney General immune from the law? Is it not the case that lack of action against the powerful makes even the most democratic law useless?
Therefore it is vital for Malaysians to reflect deeply on the reforms relating to national security and human rights currently taking place in this country. While welcoming laws to improve human rights, we should not be blinded by the lack of action among the institutions mentioned above on crimes committed by the strong and the powerful.
The feudal culture of subservience is very much alive, and unless there is a paradigm cultural shift in how the institutions of justice operate, any changes in the law alone will not bring about the desired change.
Ronald Benjamin is an Aliran member based in Ipoh.