What is SOSMA?
The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) provides for special measures for addressing security offences for the purpose of maintaining public order and security and all related matters. For most part, the Act was designed to replace the Internal Security Act 1960 when it was repealed in 2012.
Prior to the arrests of Khairuddin Abu Bakar and Matthias Chang, SOSMA have been used to arrest and detain alleged combatants from Lahad Datu, Sabah, alleged supporters and sympathizers of the Islamic State and others considered as terror threats.
Overview of SOSMA
- The Police have the power to arrest and detain a person for a period of 24 hours
- The Police have the power to extend the detention period to 28 days
- The Police have the power to ‘suspend’ detainee’s right to meet their family and lawyers for up to 48 hours
- No bail for those arrested under SOSMA
- Detainee will remain in detention until conclusion of all legal proceedings including appeal
SOSMA in operation
The overview only provide a brief description of the police’s power to detain an individual without trial. While these provisions may seem fair and necessary in combatting terrorism, the reality is often a far cry from the ‘designed narrative’. In some cases, these provisions give rise to significant injustice to the detainee.
There have been allegations that detainees are severely mistreated and on occasion beaten and tortured during the first 28 days of detention. It is during this time where the police reportedly attempt to elicit forced confession.
More often than not, those that were detained are not well informed of their legal rights and was not provided any legal counsel throughout their detention. Even if lawyers are provided during the 28 days, the lawyers are limited to providing legal counsel and ‘guarantee’ of safety as the laws itself makes any intervention impractical. In the event that the lawyers wish to file a habeas corpus or challenge the detention, the 28 days would have expired before the hearing date, rendering the hearing irrelevant.
Further, in cases of wrongful arrests or the unfortunate scenario where an innocent individual is detained as part of a group in a mass detention, they would be subjected to prolonged detention for a crime that they never did. Realistically, it may take years for any legal proceeding (including the appeal procedures) to conclude. This result in the unfortunate circumstances where an innocent individual would be forced to plead guilty and bargain for a relatively short sentence of a year.
On top of these inherent injustice, the notion that SOSMA was purely a tool meant for combating terrorism was revealed to be a façade when Khairuddin Abu Bakar and his lawyer Matthias Chang was arrested under SOSMA in conjunction with Section 124K and 124L of the Penal Code (alleged activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy). Various quarters alleged that Khairuddin was arrested and detained for the reports he made in foreign states in regards of the state investment firm 1MD. His lawyer, Matthias on the other hand was arrested when he visited his client at IPD Dang Wangi.
What Rights do you have under SOSMA?
Upon your arrest, the police must inform you of the reason of your arrest as soon as possible. The police officer conducting investigation must immediately notify your next-of-kin of your arrest and detention and allow legal counsel except in exceptional circumstances. Even then, this can only be delayed for 48 hours.
Although no bail will be granted to person charged with security offences, there are exceptions to it. If you are a person below the age of 18 years or a woman or a sick or an infirm person, you may be released on bail subject to an application by the Public Prosecutor that you be attached with an electronic monitoring device.
What to do if you are arrested under SOSMA?
Contacting a lawyer or next-of-kin should be the first order of business. Keep in mind that the police do have the power to deny this rights and prevent you from contacting your family or lawyer for 48 hours.