PETALING JAYA: Constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari sees the increasing use of draconian laws to crack down on dissent as an indication that the government no longer cares whether or not it is criticised for taking the slide towards dictatorial rule.
Referring to statements from Barisan Nasional leaders and enforcement authorities that try to portray the Bersih movement as a threat to parliamentary democracy, he said, “They talk about democracy and what not, but what prevails is something which is totalitarian and will lead to a dictatorship.”
He alleged that laws were being passed and used to stifle opposition and to frighten the public.
“This is basically what scholars mean when they say that the more corrupt the system is, the more terrified the government is, and the more laws will be put in place,” he said.
“This was what happened in Soviet Russia, in South Africa in the old days, and during colonial times.
“In truly democratic societies, the laws are there to express the democratic spirit and culture but in totalitarian states like Malaysia, the laws are used to stifle dissent and to undermine democracy.”
He said it was commonly understood in Malaysia that anything that could be considered a threat to Umno and to Prime Minister Najib Razak was what was meant as “detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
“You’re talking about the right to oppose and the right of dissent, and these are legitimate rights. The government may have the final say when it comes to ruling the country but we, the opposing forces or dissenting members of society, have got the right to differ.”
Aziz was expanding on the argument made by several lawyers that the authorities would be abusing the law if detained Bersih leader Maria Chin Abdullah ended up being charged under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act of 2012, commonly known as Sosma.
According to one of the lawyers, Amer Hamzah Arshad, Sosma is a procedural law that could be used whenever an offence is stipulated to be a security offence.
Section 124C of the Penal Code, under which Maria is being investigated, deals with any attempt to commit activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy, which is a security offence that could trigger Sosma.
Referring to Saturday’s Bersih rally, Amer said the question was whether calling for it was an act that could be detrimental to parliamentary democracy. “In my opinion, that’s a negative,” he said.
“Exercising the right to assemble peacefully can never, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered or construed as an act detrimental to parliamentary democracy. Therefore, the arrest of Maria Chin and the investigation under Section 124C of the Penal Code, as well as the use of Sosma, are clearly an abuse of process and an attempt by certain quarters to instil in the public a fear of assembling peacefully.”
Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh, who is also a lawyer, agreed with this notion, adding that the wide definition for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy was what made the law so easily prone to abuse.
“So anything can qualify as a threat to parliamentary democracy, even speaking against the government,” he said. “So are you telling me that you’re going to use Sosma against everyone who speaks against the government?”
Maria and Bersih secretariat member Mandeep Singh were arrested last Friday following a raid at the group’s office in Petaling Jaya.
Mandeep was released yesterday, but Maria could remain in remand for another 27 days under Sosma.
Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty told FMT that Maria’s representatives, including himself, prominent lawyer and former Bersih leader Ambiga Sreenevasan and Sivarasa Rasiah of PKR, would be filing a habeas corpus application early this week.
“She is being kept in a secret detention centre and we have no idea where that is,” Paulsen said. -Mkini