If there is credible evidence that some among them really supported terrorism, charge these individuals under relevant provisions of the Penal Code, writes Jeyakumar Devaraj.
The Malaysian public accepts that the authorities have to detain individuals suspected of planning violent actions to further their goals.
Detention for a short period so that the suspects do not have the opportunity to destroy evidence or concoct lies to mislead the police is reasonable.
But it is now already 17 days since the first five of these suspects were arrested, and 15 days since the second batch of seven were taken in. The police have had 15 days to take statements from each of these individuals separately without giving them the opportunity to get together and fabricate cover-up stories, and Counter Terrorism Division head Ayob Khan announced (The Star, 28 October 2019) that investigation papers were forwarded to the Attorney General’s Chambers on 23 October.
The ball is now with the Attorney General’s Chambers. Yes, Section 4 (5) of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) gives the authorities the legal authority to detain a terrorist suspect for 28 days.
But nowhere does it say that arrested individuals must be held for 28 days. They can be released once the authorities find that their initial suspicions are not supported by strong evidence.
If there is any evidence of links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remnants in other parts of the world, then the Attorney General’s Chambers should charge those who are thought to be linked.
But the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) strongly urges that if charges are to be brought against any of these 12 individuals, these charges should be framed under the Penal Code which has sections dealing with terrorism.
The provisions under Sosma are far too heavy-handed for dealing with this case.
Section 13 denies bail application for anyone charged under Sosma. And
Section 30 states that even if the High Court acquits the individual of the terrorism charge, an oral notification by the deputy public prosecutor that the government will be appealing the decision is sufficient to continue detaining the suspect. There is no space for judicial discretion – for the judge to decide whether or not the person being charged poses such a security risk that he needs to be locked throughout the entire trial process from the High Court right up to the Supreme Court!
Such prolonged detention can only be justified if there are credible grounds for suspecting that the individual might engage in terrorist activities while out on bail.
In this respect, Sosma is a continuation of the Internal Security Act – for it allows detention for prolonged periods without recourse to judicial review.
Under the ISA, it was detention without trial on the basis that the Special Branch thinks that person is a security threat.
Under Sosma, the Attorney General’s Chambers has the power to demand detention throughout the entire trial process (which may take more than two years), and the judges have no recourse but to deny bail.
The Attorney General’s Chamgers should keep things in perspective. There is in Malaysia a regrettable tendency for politicians of all ethnic groups to try and portray themselves as the champions of their own ethnic group. This is a negative consequence of the consociational mode of power sharing in Malaysia since the 1950s.
PSM is critical of this kind of politicking, but it is entrenched in our society. As a result, there are some Malaysian Indian politicians and NGO leaders who take a pro-Tamil Eelam position to impress their (Tamilian) audience. While this sort of politicking needs to be discouraged, it would be a travesty of justice to equate it to active support for terrorism.
Similarly, there have been several campaigns to raise money for Sri Lanka to deal with the tsunami that struck the island in December 2004 and the devastation of the civil war (which ended in May 2009). These should not be misconstrued as financial support for terrorism.
Terrorism – the adoption of violent tactics to promote certain political agendas – is a reality in today’s unhappy world. We need to depend on our security services to ensure that these activities do not spread to Malaysia.
However, the police have to take cognisance of the fact that widespread public confidence that the police are acting reasonably and professionally is crucial to the authorities’ efforts to curb terrorism.
If the public feel that the police are heavy-handed or are being unfair to certain segments of the population, then confidence and support for the police will be undermined, thus weakening anti-terrorist efforts.
On the basis of these considerations, PSM strongly urges the authorities to immediately release all 12 individuals arrested under Sosma. If there is credible evidence that some among them really supported terrorism, charge these individuals under relevant provisions of the Penal Code.