Malaysia

After Najib’s promise, a most “serious assault on human rights” - Lawyers for Liberty

BY ELIZABETH ZACHARIAH
September 26, 2013
Latest Update: September 26, 2013 11:40 am

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has reneged on his promise to "respect human rights and liberties" which he said he would uphold when announcing the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance on Malaysia Day two years ago, said human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

LFL's co-founder and adviser Eric Paulsen noted that Najib had also "persistently lied and misled the public" when he continually assured that the government would respect human rights and would not revive detention without trial.

"Although the government may argue the amendments will only target organised crime, it is almost certain from the government’s appalling track record on the use of oppressive laws like the ISA, Sedition Act and Peaceful Assembly Act – the PCA will be misused against opposition politicians, dissidents and civil society activists," Paulsen said in a statement last night.

"See for example how MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar and five other PSM activists were detained under the EO in 2011."

The DAP has also criticised Najib for breaking his promise, with secretary-general Lim Guan Eng saying yesterday that "Najib promised us national reconciliation, but he gave us national retaliation".

Paulsen added that the proposed law and procedure amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act (PCA) constitute the most "serious assault on human rights" since 1987's Operation Lallang.

The move to reintroduce detention without trial at Parliament yesterday was all the more deplorable as the amendments were done in "secret", without consultation with the opposition, civil society and the Malaysian Bar, he said

"LFL is extremely shocked and concerned with the rash of proposed criminal law and procedure amendments with far-reaching implications."

The amendments to the PCA tabled in Parliament yesterday upset opposition lawmakers as the amendments would allow detention without trial for up to two years, which is similar to the old Internal Security Act.

Additionally, the proposed amendments exclude the provision of judicial review, except if it is on procedural measures and denies legal representation to detainees except when their own evidence is taken during the inquiry process.

The PCA in its current form allows the detention of an individual for up to 72 days unlike the repealed draconian Emergency Ordinance that allowed detention without trial indefinitely.

LFL noted that the entire preamble of the Act was amended to include the provision under Article 149 of the Federal Constitution which states "threatened by a substantial body of persons inside and outside Malaysia to cause, or to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear, organised violence against persons or property".

"These amendments are absolutely scandalous and an antithesis to our democratic and fundamental rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and punishment, due process, rule of law and legal representation.

"It goes without saying that the amendments are unconstitutional especially since Malaysia is living in peacetime with no threats of subversion, insurrection or civil unrest as envisaged by Article 149 of the Federal Constitution," Paulsen said.

The LFL, which had been vocal against the previous preventive laws, argued that several amendments to the CPA are just "underhanded tactics designed to frustrate the opposition and civil society".

For example, Paulsen pointed to clause 440A which criminalises drawing, painting and writing on both public and private property, affixing, displaying, hanging and exhibiting posters, placards, banners and bunting unless they were done with the written authority or consent of the  owners – offences that can be punished with imprisonment for up to three years.

"The LFL is also concerned with the proposed amendments to the CPC, particularly clauses 265A, 265B and 265C that allow witnesses to testify in secret where the accused person and his counsel would not be able to see, hear or cross-examine the witnesses.

"Such secrecy is repugnant to the very basic foundation of our criminal justice system that demands a fair trial where justice must be done openly and transparently. The accused must be afforded an opportunity to challenge the evidence," he said. - September 26, 2013.