Lawyer group sounds warning bell over extension of SOSMA powers

Detained suspected illegal migrant workers from Indonesia stand before their documents are checked during a crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Nilai, outside Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2013. — Reuters pic
Detained suspected illegal migrant workers from Indonesia stand before their documents are checked during a crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Nilai, outside Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2013. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 23 — An NGO objected today to the inclusion of more offences under Putrajaya’s ISA replacement law, warning that this would only widen the “draconian ambit” of security offences in Malaysia.

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) campaign coordinator Michelle Yesudas said under Putrajaya’s planned amendments to the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 in Parliament this week, offences from the Penal Code and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 would be added to the new security law.

SOSMA was enacted last year to replace the Internal Security Act (ISA), the controversial preventive law that had allowed for detention without trial.“We call for caution,” she wrote in a statement here. “These amendments reflect an attempt to widen the very draconian ambit of security offences in Malaysia.”

SOSMA, she explained, had been put in place for the key purpose of maintaining public order and security pursuant to rights enshrined under Artile 149 of the Federal Constitution, which allows its derogation from constitutional articles for the greater ‘safety’ of the federation.

“Article 149 envisaged these measures to be temporary and operative against subversion and dangers to public order,” Yesudas said.

“Our objection to placing the Penal Code and anti-trafficking offences into the security offences framework stems from the fact that these are not extraordinary offences and should therefore be governed by the Criminal Procedure Code, with established and basic fair trial safeguards unlike SOSMA,” she added.

SOSMA, she said, is only supposed to apply to “genuine” security offences instead of daily crimes like trafficking and organised crime.

“LFL is against the inclusion of these offences because they widen the ambit of security offences under SOSMA and will allow the state to derogate from its responsibilities in upholding constitutional rights and standards of fair trial,” she said.

Including offences like migrant smuggling and organised crime into the definition of “security offences” under SOSMA is an act of “laziness”, she said, to transform the term “security offences” into a “catch-all” category where all offences involving more than one participant would amount to an offence against public order.

“Rather than creating more unnatural security offences, we urge the state to focus its resources properly in tackling organized crimes and people trafficking via standard law enforcement and prosecution norms that respect human rights, legal procedures and standards of fair trial,” she said.