Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 24 November 2016

In 1987, the Mahathir government tried to justify the mass arrests and detentions without trial under Operation Lalang with a “White paper” on the supposed clandestine connections of all the people caught in the dragnet. We called it a “Whitewash caper” over the detention without trial of Malaysian citizens – apart from the overall lie, it was filled with half-truths, distortions and generally, bad fiction. Even Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez at the time (Now Malaysia’s first Cardinal) castigated the poor attempt at fiction writing:

“The White paper’s reference to the use of Liberation Theology by the so-called ‘Marxist Group’ appears to us a cheap imitation of the allegations of the Singapore Government against those arrested last year (1987) on similar charges.”

Operation Lalang was really a cynical attempt by the Mahathir government to frighten the population and social activists into submission to the will of the state. After it began, the Tunku declared:

“Overnight, Malaysia has become a police state.”

Only insecure regimes need detention without trial laws. That is why after finally being forced to jettison the ISA, the government finds the need to have SOSMA, POTA and POCA in its convenient box of tricks to deal with dissidents who think outside the box.

The same bad fiction in 2016

Maria was arrested under Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) a day before the Bersih 5 rally, for investigations under Section 124C of the Penal Code for attempting “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. This is tenuously linked to the fact that the electoral reform movement has received funds from the George Soros-linked Open Society Foundations.

The inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar has said that Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah’s detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act is not politically-motivated or related to the recent rally. He said Maria was arrested following the discovery of “documents” during a raid at the Bersih office in Petaling Jaya last week:

“There were enough reasons for us to investigate her under Section 124C of the Penal Code, so we arrested her after the raid… The arrest was for a potential threat to national security…We all know what the OSF is and how many countries it has ‘toppled’ in its own ways,” he said. Khalid clarified that Sosma, unlike the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015, has a wider scope and could be used against other forms of threats to national security.

Umno information chief Annuar Musa has chipped in to claim that Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah has links to US intelligence bureau Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through the tenuous connections of the NGOs she has worked for.

And what will 28 days of interrogation reveal?

First of all, what bearing does the view of this Umno leader have on police investigations? Secondly, what will 28 days of solitary confinement reveal when the Government’s six agencies already failed to pin any charges on SUARAM after more than six months of intense investigations over the same tenuous links in 2012 and 2013?

The UMNO chief Annuar has also pointed out that Maria was involved in human rights and feminist NGOs which are pro-LGBT, such as the Women’s Development Collective (WDC), Empower and Sisters in Islam (SIS). Is that also subject to investigation under SOSMA? Is UMNO unaware that all these NGOs he has named are legitimate and legal organizations which have been operating in Malaysia for decades?

Government should be a good role model for integrity

To be “a society that is at peace with itself” (Vision 2020), the government cannot go on writing bad fiction. It must set itself up as a role model for integrity. Integrity springs from strong adherence to principles of truth, social justice and the rule of law. We will never be at peace with ourselves as long as we continue to detain people without trial and proceed to justify this with lies, distortions and generally, bad fiction…



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 23 November 2016

The spurious manner in which the Najib government has detained Chair of Bersih Maria Chin without trial under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, SOSMA highlights a reality that Malaysians should be aware of – any national “visions of grandeur” by the national leaders while detention without trial exists are purely delusional…

Just as Dr Mahathir’s ‘Vision 2020’ was bound to fail while he clung on to the ISA, Prime Minister’s ‘Transformation 2050’ will meet a similar fate as long as he clings to the need for detention without trial to shut up his critics. The simple reality is: A developed (“transformed”) nation upholds a culture of the rule of law while banana republics rely on detention without trial to silence detractors to their regimes.

Despite the abolition of the ISA, detention without trial still exists in the form of SOSMA, POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015) and POCA (Prevention of Crime Act 1959), with security provisions that are broad and vague and that will result in continuation of detention without charge and denial of basic rights. Also, the BN government has shown that its capacity for vindictive prosecution is undiminished.

When the ISA was enacted in 1960, the government justified it by saying it would only be used against the “communists”. Liberals therefore concluded that they would not be affected. However, the mass detentions, such as those of Operation Lalang, 1987 demonstrated that no-one was exempt from the clutches of the ISA.  The new “anti-terrorism” laws such as SOSMA have a familiar sense of deja vu about them. The detention of Maria Chin is yet another example that these detention without  trial laws will not only be used against alleged terrorists but also against “inconvenient truth-tellers”.

Draconian laws have failed to nail alleged terrorists

It is an embarrassing record of the BN government and the security forces that since 1960, more than 10,000 Malaysians had been incarcerated under the ISA, though as far as we know, not one of these were exposed as “international terrorists”. On the other hand, there have been at least four Malaysians arrested (two in Syria) or killed abroad (in Indonesia) for alleged involvement in international terrorism but none of them (as far as we know) had ever been detained under the ISA for being threats to national security. That says a lot about the government’s resolve to fight terrorism!

But for all the government’s alacrity in arresting and detaining alleged “security threats” such as Maria Chin, it has been completely hopeless against local “terrorists” who pollute our precious water sources – the culprits who dumped toxic solvents into our water sources and posing a serious threat to our health. Has anyone been arrested and charged for these criminal acts? Who gave licences to factories which are situated so precariously close to our precious water sources? Has anyone been arrested and charged for such negligence and/or corruption? It is clear we are not going to attain “Transformation 2050” or simply enjoy a safe and healthy existence while the police and enforcement agencies do not know their priorities.

BN’s vindictiveness still evident

The ISA was a convenient weapon for the Alliance/ BN government to deal with its political opponents. This was seen at its most blatant form when practically the whole Labour Party leadership was detained under the ISA just before the fateful 1969 general elections. The shock effect of Operation Lalang in 1987 was Dr Mahathir’s attempt to create a climate of fear which set the scene for the timely assault on the Judiciary when it was about to decide on the UMNO Team B challenge in the courts. The police and Special Branch were compromised in this Team A scheme to fix critics of the government.

Operation Lalang bore the mark of Dr. Mahathir’s autocracy and vindictiveness – the rule of law could be flouted in such a cynical way that all his critics and dissidents across the Malaysian political spectrum were hauled in that dragnet. It was payback time for me for writing critical articles and books during the false spring of the 1980s. It was the same for the other detainees who had expressed dissident views.

Above all, it exposed the BN’s capacity for vindictiveness in all its nakedness – there was no regard for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The detention without trial of Maria Chin shows that this proclivity for vindictiveness is the hallmark of banana republics, not the expected behavior of a progressive democratic society.

No sign of remorse by BN or Dr. Mahathir

If the BN government expects congratulations for repealing the ISA, then that is an admission that the ISA was a draconian and bad law. However, up to now, we haven’t heard any sign of remorse from the BN government for taking away the precious freedom of more than 10,000 Malaysians since 1960. And nearly 30 years after Operation Lalang was unleashed by then Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir, he has not found any ounce of remorse in his body to apologise to the 106 Malaysians whose freedom he stole.

And that, after all, is what sets him and the present Prime Minister far apart from statesmen such as Mandela who demonstrated a complete absence of vindictiveness in his dealings with his political opponents and honoured the rule of law and democracy.

Thus, nearly 60 years after independence, we do not seem to have progressed very far beyond banana republicanism. We are not impressed by political slogans of “Transformation This and Transformation That”. Real reform must involve among other things, the total abolition of detention without trial; the independence of the judiciary, civil service and the police force; democracy and the primacy of the rule of law, NOT rule by law.

If the government is serious about real transformation, it can start by giving Maria Chin her precious freedom and dismantling the entire detention without trial industry…



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser, 21 Nov 2016

The BN government has truly exposed itself once again in detaining Bersih Chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah under SOSMA. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 is “to provide for special measures relating to security offences for the purpose of maintaining public order and security and for connected matters”. The Act was intended to replace the discredited 1960 Internal Security Act (Malaysia).

Alleged terrorists and gangsters

Three people, including former ISA detainees Yazid Sufaat, Halimah Hussein and Mohd Hilmi Hasim, were the first ever detained under SOSMA in 2013. They were arrested for alleged incitement of terrorist acts. Following the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff, 104 Filipinos with suspected links to Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu, were detained under SOSMA. These included several family members of Kiram who had entered the state of Sabah using false identities.

Sosma was amended in the Dewan Rakyat on 22 Oct 2013 to place organised crimes as an offence punishable under Sosma. With the latest amendments to SOSMA, we are told that gangsters are the new “threat to national security”.

SOSMA is detention without trial

Superficially, SOSMA looks like a better piece of legislation when compared to its predecessor the ISA. In comparison, SOSMA only permits 28 days of detention without trial while the ISA permitted 60 days of detention before 2 years’ extension by the Ministry of Home Affairs. While this may be true, the actual conditions of detention and other facets of SOSMA render it as draconian (if not even more so) as its predecessor.

SOSMA itself is not a piece of legislation that defines crimes and provides punishment for acts of terrorism. SOSMA is a procedural law that operates in a manner similar to the Criminal Procedure Code. As such, when a person is detained under SOSMA, he or she is technically arrested for crimes outlined in Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the Penal Code. Under SOSMA, the Royal Malaysian Police can only prevent the detainee from meeting his or her family members and deny any access to legal counsel for the first 48 hours. In practice, most detainees are not made aware of their right to legal counsel when detained under SOSMA. Further, reports and complaints from families of victims often contain allegations that family visits take place under close scrutiny with the ‘meeting’ venue filled with a ‘battalion’ of police officers.

The draconian aspect of SOSMA is rather discreet as it permits punitive punishment and detention without trial due to its ‘no-bail’ policy. Traditionally, the granting of bail is up to the discretion of court, for cases under SOSMA the courts no longer enjoy this discretion and cannot in theory provide bail. In practice, this would subject a person to incarceration for months if not years pending court hearings.

In 2015, SUARAM documented 46 cases (and actively assisted with two cases where the accused is held under SOSMA). The speculation that 46 cases would only be the tip of the iceberg was confirmed when the Chief Justice of Malaysia, Tan Sri Arifin mentioned that there were 110 cases related to SOSMA heard in court in 2015. (SUARAM Human Rights Report 2015)

Abuse of SOSMA for political agenda

The abuse of SOSMA for political reasons was already validated with the detention of 1MDB complainant Khairuddin Abu Hassan under SOSMA. Soon after, Khairuddin’s lawyer, Matthias Chang was likewise detained under SOSMA for attempted sabotage under Section 124K and Section 124L of the Penal Code. Despite early promises made by the Government that SOSMA would never be used to silence political dissenters and the inclusion of legal safeguards, the detention of Khairuddin and Matthias Chang showcased the blatant abuse of SOSMA for political reasons. Fortunately, the High Court of Kuala Lumpur ruled that the alleged sabotage of the financial institution does not fall under the purview of SOSMA and Chapter VI of the Penal Code and released both Khairuddin and Matthias on bail.

The arrest and detention of Maria Chin shows that the BN government is as prepared as before to use SOSMA against political opponents and critics as it used to do with the ISA. The accounts of torture, humiliation and other cruel and inhuman treatment suffered by those detained under SOSMA are identical to the accounts of former ISA detainees. With the clandestine manner of detention and operational methods that violate human rights, the government cannot justify SOSMA as a tool for ‘protecting the nation’ as the Government of Malaysia has tried to portray it.

SUARAM therefore calls for the immediate release of Maria Chin. We reiterate the call for all laws that permit detention without trial to be abolished or amended immediately as there can be no justification for laws that undermine the right to fair trial. The arrest and detention of Maria Chin points not to any threat to the nation but to the machinations of a very insecure regime which orchestrates “sensitive issues” whenever any crisis to the ruling party necessitates it.