PETALING JAYA: Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen has accused Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of hiding behind technicalities in asserting that the Najib administration has never been politically motivated to order the arrest of activists.
Speaking to FMT, Paulsen said Najib’s government had not flinched from using technically non-security laws such as the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Sedition Act against opposition politicians and other dissidents.
Zahid recently compared the records of Prime Minister Najib Razak and former premier Mahathir Mohamad and spoke of political arrests under the latter’s rule while the Internal Security Act (ISA) was still in force. He was quoted as saying that no such arrests had been made since Najib became prime minister.
The ISA was repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) in July 2012, three years after Najib began his tenure.
Paulsen acknowledged that the current government had not used security laws as much as Mahathir’s administration did, but he said Putrajaya under Najib had used the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Sedition Act frequently enough to target opposition figures and peaceful dissidents.
“Zahid is wrong,” he said. “If you look particularly at the time after 2015, there were many arrests and detention of peaceful protesters.
“You have a record number of sedition charges and arrests over speeches and peaceful assemblies compared to Mahathir’s time.
“Zahid is trying to be technical about it, but the truth is that the human rights record over the last two years is actually very bad.”
Paulsen noted that Sosma, which is a security law, had been used on several occasions and he alleged that the purpose was to silence dissenters.
“Other than (Bersih chief) Maria Chin, who was wrongfully detained under Sosma, we can cite many other examples such as (former Batu Kawan Umno vice-chief) Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang.
“Both Khairuddin and Matthias were not only detained but were charged under Sosma for the offence of sabotage, which is a very serious charge considering that all they did was lodge police reports against 1MDB.
“They aren’t terrorists or doing anything against the state. They’re only doing something which should be considered normal in any democratic state.
“Clearly, Sosma is being used against criticism.”
Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested in November last year on the eve of a planned public demonstration and held in solitary confinement for 10 days. Paulsen was one of the lawyers who represented her.
Paulsen also cited the arrest of several student and youth activists.
“Since 2015, authorities have been throwing around the phrase ‘activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy’ very liberally on anything that is seen as challenging the authorities or Najib,” he said.
“As a result, I know of at least two occasions where students and young activists were actually arrested.”
One of the occasions Paulsen was referring to was the arrest of youth activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim in 2015. Adam was arrested for sedition in connection with the planned #TangkapNajib rally in the city.
Also in 2015, student activists from Universiti Sains Malaysia were arrested for holding a sit-in protest outside Parliament demanding that Najib step down.
Bersih 2.0 deputy chairman Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari also disagreed with Zahid, claiming there were “obvious political intentions” behind Maria’s arrest.
“When they took Maria, it was a day before the Bersih 5 rally. What is being said by Umno is not what is clear to the rakyat or the rest of the world,” he said, adding that the allegations against Maria had never been proven.