Security law questioned after Bersih chief Maria Chin's arrest

The "Women Walk for Maria" group gathering outside Parliament yesterday to deliver a memorandum to the government demanding the release of Ms Chin.
The "Women Walk for Maria" group gathering outside Parliament yesterday to deliver a memorandum to the government demanding the release of Ms Chin.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Opposition MPs say law meant to curb terror, not political beliefs

The use of a tough security law by Malaysian authorities against activist Maria Chin Abdullah has sparked debate on whether the government has cast aside its original intentions for enacting the law in 2012.

The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or Sosma, was pushed forward by the government as a necessary tool to hold suspected terrorists, opposition lawmakers say.

It was passed after intense debate, with opposition lawmakers citing worries that vague phrasing of parts of the Act will give wiggle room for the security law to be used to quash political dissent.

That fear is now coming true, they say.

 
 

Sosma replaced the controversial Internal Security Act that allowed for detention of up to two years without the suspect being produced in a court of law. Under Sosma, a suspect must be produced in court after being detained without legal representation for 28 days.

Ms Chin, 60, chief of electoral reforms group Bersih, was detained last Friday, a day before the group's fifth rally in nine years.

WHAT'S SOSMA FOR?

TOOL TO RETAIN POWER

The fact that it is now used as a tool to stop the legitimate activities of Bersih further reinforces our belief that it is indeed intended to help the powers-that-be to hold on to power by illegitimate means.

SELANGOR MENTERI BESAR AZMIN ALI

FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

Sosma is not for terrorism alone. It can also apply for anything that disturbs national security and sovereignty.

DEPUTY HOME MINISTER NUR JAZLAN MOHAMED

Last week's rally ended peacefully, which was why her supporters were surprised when police said she had been detained under what they believed is a law for curbing terrorism.

Bersih supporters have been holding nightly candlelight vigils for Ms Chin, and hundreds of women yesterday held a protest outside the Parliament complex.

"The fact that it is now used as a tool to stop the legitimate activities of Bersih further reinforces our belief that it is indeed intended to help the powers-that-be to hold on to power by illegitimate means," said Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali.

Opposition lawmakers cited the provision under Sosma which says "no person shall be arrested and detained under this section solely for his political belief or political activity".

"The arrest and detention of Maria Chin Abdullah is widely perceived to have been intended to victimise and prevent her from leading the Bersih 5 rally on the day following her arrest," Mr Steven Thiru, president of the Malaysian Bar, said in a statement.

Police have denied ill-treating Ms Chin in jail.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said yesterday: "Her detention has nothing at all to do with the Bersih rally. She was arrested... for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy."

He added: "Sosma can be used for investigations into organised crime, human trafficking and crimes against the country - not just terrorism."

Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday: "Sosma is not for terrorism alone. It can also apply for anything that disturbs national security and sovereignty."

Officials quoted a provision under the law that states a person can be arrested if he or she acted in a manner "prejudicial to public order in, or the security of, the Federation".

Despite the furore, Malaysia's Home Ministry listed in Parliament's order paper yesterday a request to extend the Sosma provision of 28-day detention for another five years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Security law questioned after Bersih chief's arrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe