Sedition Act, security laws open to abuse, activists tell Putrajaya

Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen says the use of ‘draconian’ laws can set a bad precedence as there is a more democratised way of dealing with those involved in the riots. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen says the use of ‘draconian’ laws can set a bad precedence as there is a more democratised way of dealing with those involved in the riots. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 ― Human rights advocates have criticised the government’s decision to use the Sedition Act 1948 and even anti-terrorism laws in relation to riots at a temple in Subang Jaya.

They said the Penal Code had sufficient provisions to penalise those involved in the recent fracas at the Sri Maha Mariamman Devasthanam in USJ 25, Putra Heights.

“What happened at the temple is a serious case. However, it not severe enough that it requires the government to lift the moratorium on these Acts.

“The issue was not racially motivated but due to hired thugs. Even the government has repeated says that it is not a racial or religious issue,” Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen told Malay Mail.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration has decided to lift a moratorium on legislations under review after riots at the temple, namely the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendment) 2017 (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015, Sedition Act, Security Offences (Special Measures Act (Sosma) 2012 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).

The riots last week caused a fireman to be hospitalised, while vehicles were destroyed and property damaged.

Paulsen said the use of these “draconian” laws could set a bad precedence as there was a more democratised way of dealing with those involved.

“There is still the issue of those charged under these Acts which could lead to detention without trial and not to mention it gives the authority sweeping power.

“There are enough provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code to deal with the matter, from unlawful assembly to issues involving those disturbing public tranquillity,” he said.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo said yesterday that the Cabinet had decided to lift the moratorium to deal with cases involving threats to public order, national security and race relations.

The riots at a temple in Subang Jaya last week caused a fireman to be hospitalised, while vehicles were destroyed and property damaged. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
The riots at a temple in Subang Jaya last week caused a fireman to be hospitalised, while vehicles were destroyed and property damaged. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

Petaling Jaya MP and vocal human rights activists Maria Chin Abdullah said although she understood such concerns from the government, she also opined that there are already enough provisions under the Penal Code to deal with such threats.

“There are enough laws to take threats to national security and public order. For example, laws such as Sosma, Pota and Poca, it gives so much discretion to the police that it is open to abuse,” she told Malay Mail.

Maria said that the government should abolish such laws, but if there are amendments to be made, they should remove all “draconian” elements.

National Human Rights Society (Hakam) secretary-general Lim Wei Jiet also voiced his concern over the use of “repressive laws” and urged the government to abolish them.

“In particular, Poca and Sosma give wide powers for the authorities to detain a person for prolonged periods without trial & provides no judicial oversight. Hakam believes that the existing provisions for remand of up to 14 days under the Criminal Procedure Code, as well as channelling more resources to the relevant agencies for speedier investigations, are adequate measures to tackle the problem at hand,” Lim said in a statement.

“Further, the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the CMA are phrased too arbitrarily and have been opened to abuse many times under the previous regime. Finally, the usage of Pota is wholly unnecessary considering that the temple fracas has no relation to terrorism.

“It was for this reason that Pakatan Harapan's manifesto promised to abolish these laws. Hakam, therefore, urges the government to stand firm with its manifesto promises, respect human rights and to uphold the rule of law.”

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