Rights groups criticise govt’s backpedalling on Sosma, Poca

Suaram’s executive director Sevan Doraisamy says the government’s claim that Sosma and Poca guarantee the safety and security of the country is ‘deceitful at best’.

PETALING JAYA: Two rights groups have slammed the government’s decision to retain Malaysia’s preventive detention laws with amendments.

They say this is a betrayal of the people’s trust and backpedalling on law reforms.

Suaram and Lawyers for Liberty claim the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s excuse that these laws are critical for national security are the same as those made by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said at the PPBM general assembly on Sunday that the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) and the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) 2017 (Poca) would not be repealed but would be maintained with amendments.

Suaram’s executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the government’s claim that Sosma and Poca guaranteed the safety and security of the country was “deceitful at best”.

“By claiming that these laws are critical for national security, the minister is suggesting that our criminal justice system, under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code, that has withstood the test of time, is irrelevant or incapable of addressing criminal matters or providing justice,” he said in a statement today.

Sevan said Muhyiddin was making the same claim as the previous BN administration “to justify the need or existence of a parallel ‘justice’ system under Sosma and Poca where fundamental rights protected by the Federal Constitution and fair trial principles are dismissed and ignored”.

“Making ambiguous and arbitrary claims that these laws are effective in combating national security threats, without establishing how it does so, and how the Criminal Procedure Code and Penal Code fail to do so, is irresponsible and malicious.”

He said Muhyiddin’s announcement was “yet another betrayal” by the PH government, especially after he had committed to further engagement with civil societies and stating that he would establish a working group with them to review the laws while a moratorium is put in place.

Sevan said since then, the government has not pursued both commitments “with no further feedback and communication from the ministry”.

“With the backtracking and failure to fulfil its commitments, the PH administration has proven itself only capable of maintaining the BN’s institutional direction and governance structure, which disregard peoples’ welfare and human rights.”

He warned that if the government failed to uphold the spirit of reform which led to it forming the federal government, it would contribute to its premature downfall as support from the public dwindles.

“The civil societies’ demand is simple — abolish Sosma and Poca.

“Give detainees an opportunity to defend themselves fairly in court, in line with established principles of the right to fair trial, failing which, PH should drop the charade and acknowledge that they are no different from BN”.

‘Taking easy way out’

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya.

In a separate statement, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) executive director Latheefa Koya debunked Muhyiddin’s claim that if the laws were abolished, some groups might take it as a sign that they are free to do as they please “by becoming gangsters or terrorists”.

She said PH, like the previous BN administration, was “taking the easy way out by hanging on to these oppressive laws”.

“The government must not backpedal on its promise to rid Malaysia of the BN regime’s terrible legacy of oppressive laws.

“The PH manifesto explicitly promised to repeal Poca, Sosma and Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota). It is unacceptable for the new government to breach these promises relating to fundamental liberties.”

Noting that the PH leaders had not honoured a single promise when it came to abolishing or amending oppressive laws, except in the failed attempt to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act, Latheefa said many of them had fought against detention without trial while in the opposition.

“Their silence now is surprising and disturbing.

“The new PH government should not tolerate any law which allows preventive detention in any form whatsoever,” she said.

“Lawyers for Liberty urges the government to go back to its manifesto where it had promised to enhance, equip and modernise the police force.

“This is what is required to effectively and efficiently tackle and prevent crimes, not by using oppressive laws that confer arbitrary powers to the police.

“Further, modernisation of law enforcement methods will also enhance the police reputation as well as prevent abuse and misconduct.”