KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah’s detention without trial under a security law cannot be justified and she should be released immediately, the Malaysian Bar said today.
Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said allegations that Maria attempted to undermine parliamentary democracy appeared to be baseless, adding that her 28-day detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) was unjustifiable.
“The arrest and detention of Maria Chin Abdullah is widely perceived to have been intended to victimise and prevent her from leading the Bersih 5 rally on the day following her arrest.
“Any misuse of laws for ulterior or colourable purposes by the authorities cannot be condoned, as it would be tantamount to abuse of power,” he said in a statement on behalf of the professional body representing lawyers from peninsular Malaysia.
Maria was arrested just a day before the Bersih 5 protest against corruption last Saturday. She was investigated under Section 124C of the Penal Code for the offence of attempting to commit activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy, due to claims that Bersih 2.0 had purportedly received foreign funding.
In condemning Maria’s arrest and detention, Steven listed various facts to back his assertion that it was unjustifiable, noting that the Open Society Foundations (OSF), which had allegedly given funds to the polls reform group, is not regarded as an “unlawful society”, nor a “listed terrorist organisation” under local laws.
Among other things, Steven highlighted Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed reportedly saying earlier this month that the government has been monitoring the channelling of OSF funds to groups within Malaysia, but has found no concrete evidence that the latter was using the money to carry out activities that can disrupt public peace.
Steven said it was incredible for Maria to be suspected of using OSF funds for an attempt to commit an “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, which is defined under the Penal Code’s Section 130A as an activity “designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means”.
Noting the government had said Sosma is a law to deal with terrorism, Steven said, however, it was never intended to restrict nor prohibit any peaceful and legitimate democratic activity.
“Peaceful demands or activities by citizens are part and parcel of the process of parliamentary democracy. It is the criminalisation of these acts that is detrimental to parliamentary democracy, and must be rejected,” he said.
“The Malaysian Bar demands that Maria Chin Abdullah be released immediately and unconditionally,” he concluded.
Nur Jazlan told reporters today that Sosma was not for terrorism suspects alone, but applied to “anything that disturbs national security and sovereignty”.
Steven also said Maria’s reported solitary confinement under Sosma in a small windowless and bed-less cell with lights permanently on amounted to “oppressive, inhumane and degrading” detention conditions.
“It would appear that Maria Chin Abdullah is being subjected to the deplorable Internal Security Act 1960 (‘ISA’)-type detention conditions, prior to the repeal of that law in 2012, which cannot be tolerated. It would thus seem that there has been a flagrant breach of the Lock-Up Rules 1953, which provide for conditions of detention and apply even for detentions under Sosma,” he said.
He also said Maria’s detention conditions appeared to have breached international standards under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners or the Nelson Mandela Rules.