Lawyers split over use of preventive laws to maintain peace and order

The Cabinet has agreed to allow police to use security laws, including Sosma, to handle the recent riots at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in USJ25 here.

PETALING JAYA: A criminal lawyer has come out in support of the government’s move to use preventive laws and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) to check those who threaten the security of the nation and public order.

However, another lawyer said the seven-month Pakatan Harapan (PH) government must keep to its election promise to repeal existing laws that are against human rights and rules of natural justice.

N Sivananthan said police need such laws during the investigation period to check the tense situation from getting out of control.

“Those who act violently or make inflammatory speeches that touch on race relations must be apprehended as their conduct is an attack on the society we live in,” he said.

Sivananthan said the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) allowed police to detain suspects for investigation for up to seven days for offences under the Penal Code that were considered not serious.

As an example, he said the offence of dissemination of information by word of mouth or in writing to incite violence under Section 124H of the Penal Code only carried a jail term of up to five years.

The Penal Code defines an offence as serious only if it carries a jail term of 10 years and above.

The lawyer said he also agreed that Sosma be utilised so that those who were arrested under this procedural law could be held for up to 28 days and denied bail once they were charged.

Sivananthan said this in response to a statement by Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday that the Cabinet had agreed to allow the police to use security laws, including Sosma, to handle the recent riots at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in USJ25 here.

He said the Cabinet, at its meeting last Friday, also decided to withdraw the moratorium on the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), Sedition Act and Sosma.

All these preventive laws allow police to hold suspects up to 60 days for investigation purposes and they can be prosecuted for offences under the penal laws.

“The detainees could also be held in detention centres for two years or made a restricted resident,” Sivananthan said.

However, he said Sosma would also come handy under the current circumstances if irresponsible political and civil society leaders made incendiary remarks to rile up their supporters.

‘Keep to your word’

Lawyer Salim Bashir said the PH government should not use preventive laws and Sosma even under exceptional circumstances as they promised to repeal the draconian laws if they were voted into power.

“They must keep to their word as the preventive laws and Sosma are obsolete, and against the rules of natural justice and fair trial,” said Salim, who also practises criminal law.

He said the CPC and all penal laws were sufficient to deal with those who advocated violence, be it in action and speech.

The CPC empowered law enforcement agencies to detain suspects for up to 14 days although such a remand period was only given for serious crimes like murder and drug trafficking.

Salim said the government could always amend the laws to allow more time to detain suspects under CPC.

“The prosecution could persuade the court to impose heavier penalties as a deterrent once those charged are found guilty after due process of the law,” he said.