In calling for the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act to be repealed, lawyers at a Bar Council forum yesterday said not only did it retain elements from the defunct Internal Security Act (ISA), it also has potential of greater abuses.
Top of the list of concerns raised were on unrestricted powers by the police to detain an individual without trial under Sosma for up to 28 days.
Bar Council member Ravi Nekoo questioned whether the government has kept its promises made when tabling the Sosma Bill in Parliament on April 16, 2012.
Citing excerpts from then de facto law minister Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz's speech in Parliament, Ravi said the list of promises include that the law would not be used against individuals solely for their political beliefs, or to curtail a person's right to freedom of speech and assembly.
"In 2012 Sosma was enacted, (in) 2015 there already was an abuse - three years down the line. Were the promises being kept?" he said in reference to the arrests of former Umno leader Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang under Sosma over an alleged attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy.
At the time, Khairuddin had just returned home from a global tour to solicit investigations by foreign authorities on alleged financial scandals involving the troubled state sovereign fund, 1MDB.
However Nazri, who is now tourism and culture minister, in responding to former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad last Thursday, denied the government had broken its promise that Sosma would not be used for political reasons.
Ravi said the main concern is that the decision to detain a person for up to 28 days could be made by the police without being subjected to any judicial scrutiny.
"It is an executive detention,” he lamented.
Ravi said this provision is however subject to a review every five years, and urged lawmakers to push for change when this is raised in Parliament next year.
Fellow panellist, PKR legal bureau chief Sivarasa Rasiah, pointed out that similar promises had been made and broken since 1960 when the ISA was first enacted to counter communist insurgents.
"The most notorious example is the 1987 Ops Lalang. That was my baptism into human rights works in Malaysia.
"I came back from England in 1986, started practicing in 1987 and within a few months my friends were arrested under the ISA," he said on the government crackdown which saw more than 100 politicians and activists detained without trial.
"Such abuses happened again and again over the years," stressed the Subang MP, adding that opposition lawmakers had issued their misgivings when Sosma was first debated in Parliament, a security law ostensibly to replace ISA which was repealed.
Bar Council Human Rights committee co-chairperson Andrew Khoo, meanwhile, said there are also a list of "technical offences" under Section 124 of the Penal Code which the police may investigate under Sosma.
These offences, he explained, include the sharing and receiving of any materials on activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
On comparisons with ISA, Khoo claimed Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had in 2012 reportedly admitted the law was abolished because it did not help the BN government politically.
"If you put someone under the ISA, it does not kill them. Instead, it enhances their political career.
"But isn't the government doing the same thing now with Sosma? You are abusing Sosma for political purposes," he said.
"If people don't know about Maria Chin Abdullah before Friday, they definitely do so now and we have the government to thank for that," he said on the widely reported arrest and detention of the Bersih chairperson.
Maria was arrested on the eve of the Bersih 5 rally, which was held to demand for institutional reforms, and she was subsequently detained for 10 days.
Also on the panel of the forum titled ‘Sosma: The new ISA?’ was Parti Amanah Negara strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.- Mkini