Malaysia Renews Controversial Detention Clause for 5 Years

Tengku Noor Shamsiah Tengku Abdullah
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia Renews Controversial Detention Clause for 5 Years Families of some people arrested under SOSMA gather with opposition party members and NGO representatives outside the parliament building to protest against a provision in the act that allows for detention without trial, in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 21, 2019.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia’s parliament on Tuesday reinstated a controversial provision of a law that empowers authorities to hold suspects for up to 28 days without charge for alleged national security offenses, despite strong resistance from opposition lawmakers.

The provision, which critics say often is misused for political reasons, had been repealed a few months ago but was renewed for five years after 111 members of parliament voted for its extension on Tuesday, compared with 88 who voted against it.

“If we want to argue about the concept of justice ..., this act (SOSMA) also provides justice for people who are detained, such as the opportunity to see a lawyer and these cases of security offenses are also tried in the High Court,” Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin said at the lower house, while defending the move to reinstate the provision in the Special Offenses (Security Measures) Act – otherwise known as SOSMA.

Although the act provides for 28 days to investigate, the police however only have 21 days to do so because they must submit complete investigation papers to with the attorney-general seven days before the end of the 28-day period, the minister noted.

When SOSMA first came into effect on June 22, 2012, officials had said its special measures would deal with threats to national sovereignty such as terrorism, and that it would replace the much dreaded Internal Security Act (ISA), which was in place for decades.

The minister first presented the extension motion on March 23, but failed to get the support of a majority of MPs. And then, in a major embarrassment for the government, the lower house of parliament voted down the proposal.

Meanwhile, Maria Chin Abdullah, a Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya who was once arrested under SOSMA spoke in parliament against its extension.

“I still cannot accept how an act that has been cancelled can be reinstated with a very weak explanation. ISA and SOSMA are Acts and procedures that ignore the rule of law,” she said.

“Under SOSMA, the rule of law is not respected because the trial court cannot order the Public Prosecutor to submit any statement or summary of information that is considered sensitive, or harmful to national security. This makes defense very challenging. The most unfair part of SOSMA is that the accused can be held in jail until the final appeal is over even if the trial court has acquitted the prisoner.”

Abdullah said she was not against efforts to control and deal with terrorism, but she believes that the country’s existing laws are strong enough to deal with those threats.

In 2020, Malaysia had detained 1,032 individuals without trial by August, according to the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Malaysian human rights practices.


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