OCT 4 — This week, preventive detention powers have been resurrected by Parliament. The Preventive Crime Act (PCA) will allegedly be used to combat organised crime. The law was primarily spearheaded by Zahid Hamidi and backed by the Barisan Nasional government.

The PCA allows for detention without trial for up to two years which can be renewed. The caveat placed by the government is that a five-member board headed by a judge would be issuing the detention order.

The screws of oppression are being mercilessly tightened.

Seeing as how many dissenting politicians are no stranger to the Sedition Act, one can imagine what would happen if the PCA is applied to allegedly seditious acts.

At last, with Ops Cantas the government has recognised the crime wave that is paralysing Malaysia. The old trick in the bag was to dismiss our claims with the condescending statement that the high crime rate was merely perception – a figment of our imagination.

It took a few high profile shootings before the government acknowledged our crime concerns. As usual, no apology was registered by the government to signify that their perception argument was baseless and at best arrogant.

Nevertheless, the preventive detention measures proposed by the government would lead to more sorrows – in a country that is all too familiar with the long shadow of preventive detention.

Deterrence first, reforms never

Preventive detention powers are heavy handed, prone to abuse and mere wayang kulit (shadow play).

Paul Low claimed that preventive laws are designed to send a message of deterrence to criminals. The problem is before committing a crime, criminals like any human beings would do a cost-benefit analysis. They would evaluate the risk of getting caught, the costs and gains of committing a crime.

No matter how heavy the laws are, if the criminals have reason to believe that there is a high chance they won’t be caught – they would still go ahead with the crime.

Hence, the real issue is not about preventive detention. The court of public opinion must be oriented to demand the implementation of the recommendations of the IPCMC. Only when the police force has been reformed and resource allocation is optimised to the crime investigation department can we have a safer Malaysia.

We can have various laws detaining people in the most creative of ways. But if the competency and efficacy of the executioners of the laws are in doubt, the results would still be poor.

The government cannot deny that there is a trust deficit with the police force. It is excruciating to point at cases of suspects dying in lockups.

While we look at the state as our protector, the state turns assailant.

Suspects deserve to be treated with dignity, just like every human being.

The police too, need to have their dignity restored. This is why the IPCMC recommendations must be taken up as fast as possible – to restore the dignity of the police by establishing their credibility with more accountability.

It is feared that an indefinite detention of a suspect would lead to a sense of complacency and a lackadaisical attitude among the police force. Since the option to prolong the detention period is available, the incentive to work on the case is reduced.

The Economist (July 20th 2013) reported that in contemporary Western society, crime is at an all-time low. This is primarily due to effective enforcement, not harsher punishment. Crime is prevented because the criminal is cognisant of the high chances of being caught. No laws which detain criminal suspects indefinitely are required.

Malaysia should take heed.

Revisiting the ghost of Emergency Ordinance

It cannot be denied that public security is of utmost priority. After all, security is the precursor of freedom. Without security, one cannot be free. One is unable to tap one’s creative energies and chart one’s own destiny if he is constantly thinking about his own self-preservation.

Nevertheless, in a civil society where the rule of law reigns, the punishment must be proportional to the crime. It must not be excessive until the individual is unjustly aggrieved.

This is what demarcates a compassionate society from a bloodthirsty and heartless one.

Preventive detention cannot be justified in the context of crime. It is based on suspicion and not beyond reasonable doubt – the standard required in a court of law. So we aren’t sure if the suspect is being framed or if he is genuinely guilty.

The repealed Emergency Ordinance was used to detain suspected criminals without trial. It was alleged that the suspects were gang members and their incarceration was done to protect society.

Time and time again, the “security” buzzword has been disingenuously invoked as a pretext, a shield, to abuse the civil liberties that individuals rightly deserve.

It doesn’t matter whether preventive detention is an “option of last resort.” The point is that it is still an option available for usage - an option that will remain as a stain on our democracy.

Ironically, the government has no hesitation of empowering itself with the powers to detain people without trial. The amendment of the PCA was the first resort before considering other measures like the IPCMC.

One can only wonder if the PCA will be used as a last resort as well.

I remember reading Syed Husin Ali’s Two Faces: Detention without Trial. He explained what happened to those under ISA.  He was a lecturer and even then was treated poorly while in lockup and in Kamunting.

One can only imagine how suspected criminals under the EO were treated.

Many questions surround the repealed EO. Did the suspects receive any correctional measures? Assuming that they did, was it effective? Were provisions made to ensure that once released, they were able to integrate into society?

I think a person would be radicalised if he is detained without trial. Being stripped of any shred of dignity and robbed of a fair trial he is left helpless once released. Violent crime would be the only way for him to make his way in this unforgiving world.

The government confirmed the futility of rehabilitation programmes when they claimed that the rise in crime was because of the EO suspects being released once the EO was repealed.

This just shows that preventive detention is employed to incarcerate a suspect and when the time expires, a more radicalised and unreformed suspect would be released into society.

Most people find it difficult to sympathise with suspected criminals, who are on the periphery of society. But no innocent person deserves to be detained for such a long time, living in perpetual uncertainty.

We have come so far in fighting for the abolition of the ISA and the EO. We now need to demand a more responsible and effective police force.

Preventive detention only serves to add more chains to the staggering ones that Malaysians are already wearing.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.