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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sosma has potential for greater abuses, warn lawyers

In calling for the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) to be repealed, lawyers at a Bar Council forum yesterday said not only does it retain elements from the defunct Internal Security Act (ISA), it also has the potential for greater abuses.

Top of the list of concerns raised was the unrestricted power of the police to detain an individual under Sosma for up to 28 days, without trial.

Bar Council member Ravi Nekoo questioned whether the government has kept its promises made when tabling the Sosma bill in Parliament on April 16, 2012.

Citing excerpts from then de facto law minister Nazri Abdul Aziz's speech in Parliament, Ravi said the list of promises included that the law would not be used against individuals solely for their political beliefs, or to curtail a person's right to freedom of speech and assembly.

"In 2012 Sosma was enacted, (in) 2015 there already was an abuse - three years down the line. Were the promises being kept?" Ravi said in reference to the arrests of former Umno leader Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang under Sosma over an alleged attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy.

At the time, Khairuddin had just returned home from a global tour to solicit investigations by foreign authorities into alleged financial scandals involving troubled state sovereign fund 1MDB.

However, Nazri, who is now tourism and culture minister, in responding to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad last Thursday, denied the government had broken its promise that Sosma would not be used for political reasons.

Ravi said the main concern is that the decision to detain a person for up to 28 days could be made by the police without being subjected to any judicial scrutiny.

"It is an executive detention,” he said.

However, he noted, this provision is subject to a review every five years, and he urged lawmakers to push for change when this is raised in Parliament next year.

Fellow panellist, PKR legal bureau chief Sivarasa Rasiah, pointed out that similar promises had been made and broken since 1960, when the ISA was first enacted to counter communist insurgents.

"The most notorious example is the 1987 Ops Lalang. That was my baptism into human rights works in Malaysia.

"I came back from England in 1986, started practising in 1987 and within a few months my friends were arrested under the ISA," Sivarasa said of the government crackdown that saw more than 100 politicians and activists detained without trial.

"Such abuses happened again and again over the years," stressed the Subang MP, adding that opposition lawmakers had issued their misgivings when Sosma, a security law ostensibly to replace the repealed ISA, was first debated in Parliament.

Bar Council Human Rights committee co-chairperson Andrew Khoo said there is also a list of "technical offences" under Section 124 of the Penal Code, which the police may use to investigate under Sosma.

These offences, Khoo explained, included the sharing and receiving of materials on activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

He said Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had, in 2012, reportedly admitted that the ISA was abolished because it did not help the BN government politically.

"If you put someone under the ISA, it does not kill them. Instead, it enhances their political career.

"But isn't the government doing the same thing now with Sosma? It is abusing Sosma for political purposes," Khoo said.

"If people didn't know about Maria Chin Abdullah before that Friday (Nov 18, when she was arrested), they definitely do so now and we have the government to thank for that," he said on the widely reported arrest and detention of the Bersih chairperson.

Maria was arrested on the eve of the Bersih 5 rally, which was held to demand for institutional reforms, and she was subsequently detained for 10 days. - Malaysiakini

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