Current use of the Security Measures (Special Offences) Act 2012 (SOSMA) to arrest alleged drug syndicate members in Sabah sets a concerning precedent for increasingly arbitrary application of the procedural law to combat organised crime.
The difficulty to “nab syndicate leaders or masterminds” is senseless in this case when the leader of the syndicate is already apprehended. Furthermore, with the information publicly disclosed about the syndicate’s activity, it seems that the police already have adequate leads for subsequent investigations, for which the usual remand process with necessary extensions under the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) would suffice. It is also noteworthy that the DIGP has had success busting a transnational syndicate in his previous tenure as police chief of Johor in 2020 without using SOSMA. Under his leadership, a syndicate trafficking drugs to Indonesia was crippled after a series of raids around Johor Bahru and Muar, and all suspects were remanded for seven days for investigations under relevant provisions under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and Poisons Act 1952. Thus, having the biggest drug syndicate in the state that is also operating transnationally is not a sufficient basis for the use of SOSMA.
With the above reasoning, we can only surmise that SOSMA was used to maximise the period of detention of the suspects involved, which is commonly the case. Cases managed by SUARAM highlight hit-and-miss arrest and detention of individuals with little to no actual organised crime affiliation who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, based on activities such as donations that have little to no correlation with terrorist activities.
Contrary to the DIGP’s claim, SOSMA is not more effective than existing laws. Laws are but one prong of a multifaceted strategy to nip drug trafficking and with it, drug abuse, in the bud. The Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 is sufficient for enforcement purposes, alongside scaled-up implementation of evidence-based education and rehabilitation programmes and other holistic initiatives. Moreover, SOSMA is also a breeding ground for abuse of power, through extended incarceration and absence of fair trial safeguards including the admissibility of evidence obtained by torture, oppression or even fabrication. At this rate, we would be tethered to a slippery slope to increasingly draconian crackdowns on crime that perpetuate human rights violations and make a mockery of our criminal justice system.
On this note, we urge the police to investigate the 10 suspected drug syndicate leader and members using the remand process under the CPC. Concretising the commitment to amend and eventually abolish SOSMA is also essential, in light of not only violations of the right to fair trial but also the inevitable cascade effect of extended incarceration of detainees on the socioeconomic wellbeing of their families. As such, we demand the government to table the long-overdue amendments to the procedural law by the earliest parliamentary sitting in 2024, alongside a specific timeline by which SOSMA will be abolished.