PETALING JAYA: News that the government will not be reviewing the Sosma security law has drawn brickbats from human rights organisations and politicians alike.
Newly appointed home minister Saifuddin Nasution has defended the law, saying it “allows the court process to take place” and it is necessary to tackle organised crime-related cases.
But the use of Sosma has been a long-standing controversial issue and had been opposed by Pakatan Harapan even before the 2018 general election.
FMT takes a closer look at what the Act is actually about.
What is Sosma?
Sosma is the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act. It provides for special measures relating to offences against the state to maintain public order and security, and all related matters.
It was first proposed in 2012 as a replacement for the now-abolished Internal Security Act, which allowed for detention without trial. Sosma was implemented in June 2012 by the Najib Razak government.
The law was enacted under a constitutinal provision that provides broad powers against subversion, threats to public order, acts of terrorism, sabotage and espionage.
Why is it controversial?
Under Sosma, a police officer may arrest and detain an individual whom they believe to be involved in security offences without a warrant.
Sub-section 4(5) of Sosma allows the police to detain a person suspected of being involved in terrorist activities for a period not exceeding 28 days for investigations, without a court order.
This sub-section is to be reviewed every five years and will cease to have effect, unless, upon the review, a resolution is passed by both houses of Parliament to extend the provision’s period of operation.
In July, the Dewan Rakyat approved a five-year extension to the provision.
Sosma detainees may be released before the 28 days have elapsed, however, the police are allowed to attach an electronic monitoring device to them, not exceeding the remaining detention period.
Under Section 5(2), a police officer not below the rank of superintendent can stop a detainee from meeting their next of kin and lawyers for up to 48 hours if:
- the cops believe there are reasonable grounds the lawyer will interfere with evidence;
- it will lead to the harm of another;
- they will alert another person suspected to be involved in a security offence; or
- they will hinder the recovery of property obtained as a result of the offence.
Strong support for Sosma
Former inspector-general of police Musa Hassan said Saifuddin made the right decision to defend Sosma as it was imperative to have preventive laws to investigate crimes that threaten the nation’s security.
“The police need more detention powers to investigate (these crimes) further and identify these crime syndicates, the financiers as well as the ring leaders,” he told FMT. “So, yes the 28-day detention period is viable and the act should remain.”
He added that while there are other procedural laws in place, the detention period was too short, making it difficult for the police to conduct thorough investigations.
In 2019, when PH was in the government, then home minister Muhyiddin Yassin had also defended Sosma, saying it was needed to curb terrorism as other laws were inadequate.
Muhyiddin had also used Sosma to detain several DAP members in 2019 over alleged links to the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was on the home ministry’s list of terror organisations.
Criticisms against the ‘unjust’ Act
On the other hand, human rights defenders and politicians have described Sosma as draconian as it infringes on an individual’s fundamental rights guaranteed in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.
Among the most vocal of critics is former Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, who said Sosma “breeds and institutionalises injustice”, citing Section 30 of the Act which allows detainees to be kept in prison until all court trials and appeals are concluded.
Maria had been arrested under Sosma on Nov 18, 2016 – a day before the Bersih 5 rally – and held in solitary confinement in a 15 feet by 8 feet windowless cell. A Malay Mail report said she was denied a bed and described the detention as “ISA-style”.
Other human rights groups have also called on the government to repeal the Sosma provision that denies bail and restore the role of the magistrate in granting remand orders.
Even Damansara MP Gobind Singh Deo reminded Saifuddin that PH had always been against Sosma. He said Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim, now prime minister, had said in 2019 that certain parts of Sosma needed to be amended as the law was “too harsh”.
The PH-led unity government has been accused of backtracking on reforming the law following Saifuddin’s remark, since the coalition had been vocal about it previously.
However, repealing the law was not listed in PH’s manifesto for the recently concluded general elections.
Saifuddin later acknowledged that certain provisions in Sosma will need to be reviewed from “time to time”, though the minister reiterated there will not be any amendments to the Act for now.