Laws that are considered draconian will be repealed by the new Government, particularly the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), said Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Speaking at the Coalition of Klang Chinese Associations´(CKCA) Tabung Harapan Fund Raising Dinner on 23 July, he highlighted the unfairness of SOSMA, which was enacted during former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s tenure.
Dr Mahathir said: “Najib’s law allows a person to be arrested and not to be taken to court, and if that person died, there will be neither inquiry nor action taken against those who killed him. That is the law passed by Najib and we will repeal that law.”
He said that the new Pakatan Harapan government aims to maintain and enact fair and just laws to protect citizens instead.
“The people will be protected by fair laws so that if they committed any offence, they will be judged by the court … The court will determine whether or not the person is guilty,” he said.
Separately, prominent lawyer Shafee Abdullah has expressed his support for Dr Mahathir’s decision to abolish the oppressive act.
“The Act has given the police a carte blanche (unrestricted authority) to indulge in corrupt practices on a large scale,” he said.
He added: “It is also one of the rarest legislation that attempts to rob away judicial power from the courts by not allowing bails to accused persons unless consented to by the prosecution.
“I am glad the Prime Minister, a non-lawyer, sees the injustice brought about by this Act,” he said, adding that even the Malaysian Attorney-General’s Chambers did not perceive the absurdity of the Act.
SOSMA should not be repealed; key in maintaining public order: UMNO president
President of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, however, protested against the potential repeal of SOSMA, stating that the aim of the Act is to uphold national security and public order, and not to be used as a political tool.
The former Deputy Prime Minister under Najib Razak’s administration also said on 23 July that offenders are treated with greater care compared to suspects who are detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which also entails detention without trial.
He cited as an example that those detained under ISA may be held up to two years without trial, while those detained under SOSMA will only be detained for 28 days without trial.
Zahid fears that the abolishment of SOSMA will open the floodgates to the unrestrained spread of racial and religious provocation, citing anti-monarchy sentiments from groups that oppose the existence of the Malay Rulers and the royal families.
“With the intention to remove the Sedition Act 1948 and Anti-Fake News Act 2018, it seems the Government wants to encourage negative sentiments on religion, race and politics in the country,” said Zahid.
He added: “With the rapid change of the political landscape, locally and internationally, laws such as SOSMA and the Sedition Act are very timely, and at the same time, the laws protect the suspects’ rights.”
He also pointed out the irony of Dr Mahathir’s suggestion to abolish “draconian laws”, citing the latter’s defence of such laws during his first tenure as Prime Minister beginning in 1981.
SOSMA should be amended, not repealed: Law academician
Senior Lecturer & Research Fellow (Law and Constitution) from University of Technology Malaysia, Dr Muhammad Fathi Yusof, said in an interview with the New Straits Times that while SOSMA is monumental in curbing radicalisation amongst certain groups of Malaysians, he said that the Act was also unjustly wielded as a political tool against dissidents.
Citing the detention of Bersih 2.0 chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah, he said that the Act needs to be amended to make room for provisions that will protect detainees from such abuse.
“Certainly, some existing provisions in the Act have also come under criticism and Sosma has been viewed as a repressive and cruel law which must be abolished,” he said.
“However, it will be better if amendments are made to the Act instead of abolishing it altogether.”
Dr Muhammad suggested reducing the detention period from 28 days to 14 days.
He also advocated the right for detainees to seek legal aid for themselves.
Dr Muhammad added that SOSMA and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) must be enforced by authorities who have in-depth knowledge about terrorism, in order to prevent abuse and misuse of such laws for the purpose of achieving political ends.
However, in comparison to the Internal Security Act (ISA) which has been abolished, Dr Muhammad suggests that SOSMA acts as the better piece of legislation.
“In fact . . . SOSMA was introduced to replace the ISA, which was frequently used by the government to detain its political enemies.”
“Memories of the cruelty inflicted by the usage of the ISA are still fresh . . . From the detention of Pas Youth members in 1984, to Operasi Lalang in 1987, to Operasi Kenari in 1988 and to the detention of those involved in the Reformasi movement in 1998,” he illustrated.
“These are but some of the dark memories of abuse done by the leadership against the people,” he concluded, grimly.