KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 — Those arrested under the controversial Prevention of Crime Act (POCA) could find themselves detained without trial without even a chance to be heard under Putrajaya’s proposed law changes, a legal group cautioned.
Human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said the federal government’s proposed amendments to POCA will make the law — which enables detention without trial — even worse.
“In effect, after the amendments, the detainee will be gagged, with no opportunity to explain his side of the story, completely helpless and left at the mercy of the detention authorities.
“We therefore call on all parliamentarians to oppose these amendments as they would aggravate the already poor human rights record of Malaysia,” LFL’s executive director Eric Paulsen said in a statement today.
Explaining the current law, Paulsen noted that individuals deemed as suspected criminals and subject to the POCA procedure would not face trial in court before being detained, adding that the “unfair and opaque administrative detention process” would involve the police’s investigation on the detainee being passed to an inquiry officer.
The inquiry officer would make further inquiry and a finding on whether the individual can be detained or be put under police supervision, with this officer’s finding then passed to the Prevention of Crime Board to review and decide if the individual should be detained or be under police surveillance or released.
The board’s decision-making powers include ordering the detainee to be detained for a maximum two-year period without trial before extending it for two years again for an unlimited number of times; as well as ordering the detainee to be placed under police supervision for a maximum five-year period — also renewable for the same maximum period for unlimited times — with restrictions on movement, residence, communication access and with an electronic monitoring device attached.
“It is important to note that under the POCA procedure, there is no court trial nor any evidence provided that can stand up in a court of law to prove the detainee is guilty of any particular criminal offences,” Paulsen said, adding that it is akin to a “secret trial” where the detainee could not defend himself as he will not know his accusers, the exact allegations or evidence against him.
In explaining the government’s proposed amendments that were tabled in Parliament on Monday[a], Paulsen said the minimal protection given to detainees would be further reduced when the inquiry officer’s role goes through a “major change”.
The amendments sought will remove the requirement for detainees to be presented to the inquiry officer for an inquiry, with the inquiry officer to instead “inquire” after receiving the police investigation and to report findings to the board.
This in contrast to the current law where Sections 6 and 9 enables the detainee to explain his side of the story to the inquiry officer before a finding is made, and where Section 11 would enable the detainee to apply to the board for the inquiry officer’s finding to be reviewed.
“These bare minimum ‘safeguards’ that were previously provided will now be completely lost under the new amendments.
“These amendments make clear that the government is not interested in upholding even the most basic principles of justice and fairness i.e. to allow the detainee an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
The proposed amendments will reduce the inquiry officer’s role to be “a mere formality to rubber stamp the police’s recommendation”, he claimed.
Having highlighted that all a detainee can do is apply for the courts to review any decisions of the board that breach that procedural requirements in POCA, Paulsen also said there will be no duty under the law to bring the detainee before the board for his side of the story to be told before his fate is decided on.
“POCA in effect punishes innocent detainees and by extension, their family members,” he said.