APRIL 11 — Public attention yesterday was focused on the introduction of the new Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill 2012 (SOSM), tabled to replace the Internal Security Act (ISA). However, few noticed the simultaneous tabling of amendments to the Penal Code, Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code to vest an unholy axis of power in a government that will only lead to a ticking time bomb for all freedom-loving Malaysians.
Most disturbingly, the amendments to the Penal Code portrayed a government operating under a Cold War siege mentality, giving the authorities near martial law powers. In particular:
1) The new Section 124B of the Penal Code creates an offence known as “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, punishable by twenty years imprisonment. Flimsily defined in the new Section 130A as “an activity carried out by a person or a group of persons designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means”, this section opens the backdoor for questionable convictions that could violate human rights if used by an irresponsible government.
Furthermore, under Section 124C, an attempt to commit an “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy” is punishable by fifteen years imprisonment. Fears of abuse of process are raised when a mere attempt to commit the crime is meted out such a heavy punishment.
2) Media freedom and freedom of information are under threat with the introduction of Sections 124D, 124E and 124F, which make it a crime to print, sell, possess, or import “documents and publications detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
Again, with a sketchy definition and a high penalty (up to fifteen years for printing), the section is rife for opportunities to be abused for government clampdown on literature deemed undesirable by the ruling party.
3) It is disturbing to note the definition of “sensitive information” under the new Section 130A (i) is so broad to encompass any document, information, or material, “whether or not it is classified as ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’, or ‘Restricted’”.
This must be read together with Part IV of the new SOSM, which introduces special procedures relating to sensitive information. It provides for in camera hearing in a trial involving sensitive information. Under Section 8 (8) of the SOSM, decisions of the court under these procedures are non-appealable. This would allow the government to keep sensitive information out of the public eye, not even accessible to the media.
I also note with concern that portions or elements of the Internal Security Act were smuggled into the Penal Code with the new amendments yesterday.
1) The words “counsels violent disobedience to the law or any lawful order” in the new Section 124H of the Penal Code are hauntingly similar to the definition of “subversive document” in Section 29 (3)(b) of the just repealed Internal Security Act.
2) The mention of the terms “counselling disobedience to the law thereof or to any lawful order therein” are chillingly reminiscent of the definition of “terrorist” in Section 2 of the ISA.
Public confidence in the government is shaken when oppressive laws are repealed with much fanfare, only to be replaced with equally — if not more — abhorrent legislation that offends the spirit of legal reform.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s quadruple barrage of ticking time bombs is a rude awakening to Malaysians that the Barisan Nasional government has no intention of real change.
* Liew Chin Tong is the MP for Bukit Bendera.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.