Detention without trial coloured Malaysia's history, from the infamous Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) to the less-well-known-but-often-used Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969 (EO).
It has gotten to the point where enforcement agencies such as the Royal Malaysian Police see such laws as necessary to maintain law and order. Despite repealing the ISA and EO, the Government of Malaysia re-introduces new laws that permit detention without trial-- replacing the 'void' created by the absence of the ISA and EO. These new laws make up what we call the "Security Laws" today:
Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA),
The Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (POCA),
Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (POTA), and
Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 (DDA).
SOSMA permits 28 days of detention without trial. In comparison, POCA and POTA permit a period up to 60 days; consisting of the initial arrest for 24 hours, an extension of 21 days with a statement in writing signed by a police officer (not below the rank of Inspector), and a further extension of 38 days with a statement in writing signed by a police officer (not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent).
In contrast, DDA is almost similar to the former ISA, which grants the Royal Malaysian Police power to detain an individual for not more than 60 days for drug-related offenses. Following the preliminary 60 days of detention, the Home Ministry can detain the individual for an additional period of no more than two years.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had promised to abolish SOSMA. In conjunction with this promise, SUARAM ran a campaign called Gerakan Mansuh SOSMA (Abolish SOSMA movement) to bring the administration's commitment to fruition. Unfortunately, throughout PH's short term in government, they remained quiet and failed to achieve this.
The possible amendments to SOSMA as mooted by the former Minister of Home Affairs during November 2019 appear to be a dead letter given the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan’s government in February 2020. The same also applies to the Pakatan Harapan’s Attorney General’s promise to amend a provision in SOSMA to enable courts to grant bail to the accused.
On top of campaigns and advocacy programs, the Right to Trial desk also receives cases concerning these security laws. In 2020, the use of draconian security laws shows no sign of abating even during a pandemic year. All four laws that permit detention without trial continued to be applied and abused.