It is not the right time to review Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) now, new Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said recently. Perhaps later.
That is an unsatisfactory ‘concession’ from the senator, who initially insisted that there would not be a review of the law at all, only to change his mind a bit within days, after a backlash from civil society and fellow Pakatan Harapan politicians.
Damansara MP Gobind Singh Deo, for instance, pointed out the undemocratic part of the law: Sosma permits a person to be detained for a period of up to 28 days, without access to court and lawyers.
As a result, there is no system of checks and balances on the powers of the investigating authorities during the material time.
This, warned the DAP deputy chairman, allows for abuse – not only at the point of wrongful arrests but also during the course of investigations – which must not be allowed.
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On 7 December, as a case in point, more than 40 people from three families gathered at the Kajang prison to find out why their loved ones had been detained under Sosma for the past six months.
Of course, this does not mean that critics of Sosma are not concerned about national security, for which the law is said to have been crafted. What they are seeking is a review of certain harsh parts.
Gobind suggested that Sections 6, 13, 14 and 18A of Sosma be amended as they were oppressive.
The former communications and multimedia minister reminded Saifuddin that this was why PH voted against the motion brought by the latter’s immediate predecessor to extend Section 4(5) of Sosma in Parliament on 23 March this year.
In other words, the minister may be new to his job, which is a powerful portfolio, but the Sosma issue is not one that has just been raised since he took office.
Gobind also reiterated that in principle, PH seeks a change in any law that has oppressive features and violates human rights. This is part of the larger reform agenda the coalition seeks to achieve.
Saifuddin should not use the template of his predecessors to the extent that people would wonder whether there is a marked difference between the current government and the previous ones as far as democratic practices and human rights adherence are concerned.
This explains why, for instance, social activists urged the Ministry of Home Affairs not to go ahead with the previous government’s plan to cancel the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) cards, which are useful for refugees and asylum seekers. Nor should the ministry shut down the UNCHR office in Malaysia, as was suggested not too long ago.
The Malaysian government should instead work closely with the UN refugee agency, especially when it comes to pressing issues, such as children’s education, that need immediate attention.
To be sure, Saifuddin’s take on Sosma did not escape the attention and even biting criticism of fellow PKR colleague, Hassan Abdul Karim.
Without mincing words, as he often does, the Pasir Gudang MP penned a Malay poem titled, Kuasa Mengubah Segala-galanya (Power Changes Everything), which supposedly expressed his deep disappointment in his friend’s handling of Sosma.
On his Facebook page, Hassan wrote, “In the past, we used to say that the law was cruel. We call it ‘draconian’, the iron fist act that denies basic rights. At that time, we were just reformers on the streets who were homeless.”
The reminder is chilling, even though, as Hassan admitted, he was shooting himself in the foot by writing the poem.
Are the harsh elements in Sosma worth protecting, to the extent of ignoring public concerns? – The Malaysian Insight