PETALING JAYA: Human rights watchdog Suaram has accused Pakatan Harapan of apathy over the need to fulfil its promise to abolish the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca).
Speaking to FMT, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said he was disappointed that Putrajaya had not come up with a timeline showing how it would work towards repealing the controversial law.
“What is your game plan?” he said. “We understand that you can’t push everything in one Parliament sitting, but can you guarantee it will be done in the next or following sitting? How do you justify what is a priority and what is not?”
Doraisamy’s complaint came in the wake of similar criticism of the government’s delay in repealing laws such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) and Sedition Act. In particular, there have recently been outcries against new sedition probes.
The previous administration consistently defended such laws, saying they were needed in the fight against ideological extremism.
According to PH’s election manifesto, Poca, the Sedition Act and Sosma, as well as the mandatory death sentence in all existing laws, will be abolished by the end of its first term as the ruling government.
Doraisamy pointed out that red flags had long been raised with the way Poca had been enforced. He referred in particular to the detention of minors.
Under Poca, a person can be detained without trial for 60 days, and there is a provision for a two-year extension. Poca detainees are put either in detention centres or under house arrest, with electronic devices attached to them.
Doraisamy claimed that some detainees had told him they were tortured during their detention.
He spoke of the case of G Balamurugan, who was arrested with 16-year-old Ang Kian Kok and another teenager for allegedly stealing goods from a car. The three were detained under Poca.
Balamurugan was found dead at the North Klang district police headquarters last February.
Doraisamy said Ang told him he saw Balamurugan being tortured.
Ang, who claimed to have been tortured as well, was scheduled to testify in a public inquiry into the matter, but was arrested again under Poca.
“This is the practice of Poca enforcers,” Doraisamy said. “They assume everyone is a hardcore criminal and once the remand is up, they charge you again, and the whole process starts again.
“As for Ang, his family came to know the police were going to arrest him again and hired lawyers.”
A magistrate court eventually denied a police application to extend Ang’s remand.
Doraisamy said Ang’s family members told him they faced constant police harassment while the boy was out on bail. They were told he would be arrested again if he were to testify in the inquiry, he added.
“We know of many such cases,” he said.
Ang has been under house arrest for more than a year and moves around with a monitoring device fitted to his leg.
Doraisamy also spoke of the case of two brothers who are unable to go to school or to work because they are under house arrest under Poca.
“One problem is that Poca is used for the most part to detain Indians suspected to be linked to gangsterism and organised crimes and Malays thought to be associated with the Islamic State,” he said.
“While there needs to be security measures in place, there is no need to have a special law that does not give the right to a fair trial.”
He said provisions in the Penal Code were sufficient to deal with suspected criminals.
Former home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told the Dewan Rakyat last year that 142 children had been arrested under Poca.
Doraisamy has directed a documentary film called “Poca Boy”, which highlights Ang’s case and deals with the problems he and other Poca detainees face. It will be screened on Oct 6 at the PJ Live Arts theatre.
The screening is one of the activities of Freedom Film Fest (FFF), an annual international human rights festival. This year’s festival runs from Sept 29 to Oct 6.