KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — Putrajaya reneged on its pledge never to apply the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, or Sosma, against political dissent when it used the law against Bersih 2.0 chief Maria Chin Abdullah, civil liberties lawyers said.
They pointed out that this was even codified in the Act itself, and stressed that the law was meant to address terrorism and violent uprisings rather than peaceful rallies such as the Bersih 5 organised by Maria’s group.
In 2012, the government took pains to convince the public that the preventive detention in Sosma would never be used in the same way as the repealed Internal Security Act that it was meant to replace.
“Section 4(3) of Sosma states that ‘No person shall be arrested and detained under this section purely for his political belief or political activity’,” lawyer New Sin Yew told Malay Mail Online.
“One of the definitions of ‘political belief or political activity’ under Section 4(12) of Sosma is engaging in a lawful activity through ‘the expression of an opinion directed towards any Government in the Federation’.”
“The work and activities of Maria and Bersih are lawful. The courts in the past have held that Bersih is a lawful organisation and the public assemblies held were lawful,” he added.
According to New, the police were directly contravening the two sections of the law when they cited the Sosma to arrest Maria on the eve of Bersih 5.
Her lawyers yesterday confirmed that police will also detain Maria for the 28 days that is allowed for under the security law.
Maria was arrested using the Sosma on Friday afternoon, allegedly for the offence under Section 124C of the Penal Code that prohibits the attempt to commit activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
Lawyers for Liberty’s Eric Paulsen criticised the decision to wield the law against the activist, noting that the Sosma was designed to combat terrorism or those seeking to overthrow the government through violence and unconstitutional means.
Citing April 2012 Parliament Hansard when Sosma was debated during its tabling, Paulsen said ministers Khairy Jamaluddin and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had then insisted that peaceful assemblies did not count as activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
“I saw nothing at the Bersih 5 assembly that was anywhere close to violent or unconstitutional,” said human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo, who echoed Paulsen’s view.
“In fact, [Saturday’s] exercise of the right to freedom of assembly was an affirmation of parliamentary democracy.”
This position was independently upheld by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), which said it saw no reason to arrest Maria and other Bersih leaders. The commission also commended Malaysians on exercising their right to public assembly.
Authorities have not specifically explained why Maria is accused of actions detrimental to parliamentary democracy, but it may be related to the funding Bersih 2.0 previously received from US billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.
New argued, however, that receiving foreign funding was neither a crime under Section 124C of the Penal Code nor one that would attract attention under the Sosma.
“She can't be arrested if she did not commit any offence. There is absolutely no basis for the police to use Sosma,” said New.
Khoo also expressed concern with the police’s failure to present Maria to a magistrate within 24 hours of her arrest.
“[This] is a breach of her fundamental liberty under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. The police are clearly showing that they do not know the Federal Constitution,” he said, referring to Article 5(4) that relates to the liberty of a person.
Paulsen confirmed on Sunday that Maria will be detained for 28 more days under Sosma in addition to the initial 24 hours since Friday afternoon.
Bersih 2.0 has since claimed that Maria was held in solitary confinement within a 15 feet by 8 feet windowless cell where two light bulbs are kept on for 24 hours a day, and denied a bed.
Maria’s lawyers led by Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan were previously reported saying that the team will use all means to secure Maria’s release, including filing for habeas corpus.- It is always the same The PM and BN lawmakers promise not to do this and that and then when it suits their agenda and wishes - they use the draconian laws where it is unnecessary! Just like the ISA, when there are no more Communists and terrorists - Opposition party members and those who even criticize the govt are ISAed! Once and for all we should VOTE OUT the Umno/BN from power in the next GE!!!