Lawyers for Liberty is appalled by the home minister’s proposal for the police power of 28 days detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) to be extended by another five years.
Under Sosma, the police hold special powers among others, to arrest and detain any person believed to be involved in security offences for up to 28 days. Those who are charged under Sosma will also be unable to acquire bail.
The controversial Act came into effect in 2012 as a replacement to the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA). Since its implementation however, Sosma has been prone to be abused, to the extent of quelling dissidents and further politically-motivated harassment and arrest of opposition and activists.
Sosma is meant to address genuine security offences. However, it is clear that Sosma has instead a wide reach, spanning across various acts and encompassing numerous ordinary criminal offences like human trafficking and organised crime.
Sosma has become a discredited piece of legislation that is easily and unjustifiably enforced upon individuals who in fact should not be subject to severe security provisions.
Notable abuses under Sosma include the detention of Maria Chin Abdullah for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang for “sabotage” when all they did respectively, were to advocate for free and fair elections and lodging reports against 1MDB with international enforcement agencies.
Zunar was arrested at his fundraising event and similarly investigated under Sosma. Numerous civil society organisations have also been subjected to investigations under the same. More recently, student Siti Noor Aishah Atam was rearrested under Sosma for possession of books which were not banned by the Home Ministry.
Sosma detainees have reported accounts of torture, humiliation, and other cruel and inhuman treatment which are shockingly identical to the experiences of former ISA detainees. Such accounts strongly illustrate the sorry state of affairs in our law enforcement agencies, and Sosma cannot be allowed to preserve its current existence as a legal instrument prone to abuse.
Sosma has been put in place for the purpose of “maintaining public order” and “security”, pursuant to Article 149 of the Federal Constitution, which allows its derogation from constitutional articles for the greater “safety” of the federation. Article 149 envisaged these measures to be temporary and operative against subversion and dangers to public order.
Rather than seeking to preserve a dubious security legislation for another five years, we urge parliamentarians to reject the home minister’s proposal as there are sufficient powers for the authorities to arrest, detain and investigate any criminal offences under ordinary criminal laws and procedures.
ERIC PAULSEN is executive director, Lawyers for Liberty.