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POPO - The other ISA

NGO joint memorandum calling for the repeal of the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969

by NGOs
Aliran Monthly Vol 25 (2005): Issue 8

start_quote (1K)Going by (the) number of people detained, the POPO can be deemed to be ten times worse than the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA), which also allows for detention without trial.
end_quote (1K)

In November 2004, it was reported by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) that 1,007 persons were being detained without trial under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 (POPO) at the Simpang Renggam detention centre. This number does not include those detained without trial in other detention centres around the country.

Going by this number of people detained, the POPO can be deemed to be ten times worse than the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA), which also allows for detention without trial. The POPO originally promulgated to counter the grave emergency of the 1969 racial riots which resulted in deaths, violence and destruction - is yet to be repealed. It still exists in our statute books - just like the many other emergency laws - even though the past conditions and justification no longer warrant its continued existence.

The POPO is an odious piece of legislation widely and frequently used by the police and the Home Ministry to arbitrarily detain or restrict the movement of those suspected to be gangsters and violent criminals. It is of grave concern to us that all those detained under suspicion have not been charged in a court of law for any specific offences because of lack of evidence. But the provisions in POPO provide for a convenient alternative to the tedious work of proper investigation requiring that facts must first be established before one can be prosecuted.

Regrettably there have been numerous cases when persons acquitted by the courts were re-arrested and detained. This common practice is an affront to the system of justice and does not respect the findings of the court.

Arbitrary powers to detain

The POPO arms the police with arbitrary powers to detain any person arrested under undemocratic law for up to 60 days for reasons of “preventing any person from acting prejudicial to public order” or for the purpose of “suppression of violence” or the “prevention of crimes involving violence.” In this circumstance the law is by-passed. There is no need for a remand order to be obtained from the magistrate for this detention. All it takes is for an arresting police officer of or above the rank of deputy superintendent to report the circumstances of the arrest to the Inspector General of Police or his designated officer.

After the initial 60-day detention period, the Home Ministry can make an order authorising the detention without trial for a period of two years. Or alternately, the Home Ministry could serve an order of restriction on the suspects imposing several conditions under police supervision. Under this order they would be required to reside within the limits of an area ranging from a village to a state anywhere in the country; to periodically report to the police; to remain indoors between specified hours and abide by other restrictions on their movements. These orders can be renewed indefinitely.

Circumvents the rule of law

The POPO is equally as draconian as the ISA. It is undoubtedly unconstitutional and blatantly circumvents the rule of law. It makes a mockery of the principle of presumption of innocent until proven guilty; it unjustly denies our civil liberties; it allows for detention without trial denying our natural justice and creates conditions for torture and other degrading forms of treatment while under detention.

The POPO is not seen as notorious as the ISA despite currently detaining more victims. POPO does not evoke as much anger and hatred as the ISA - though it is just as obnoxious - simply because its target group is different from the dissidents, critics, politicians, etc who are detained under the ISA. POPO is applied mainly against alleged gangsters, violent criminals, drug pushers and peddlers and that is why there is hardly any outcry against the use of the POPO.

However, recent trends have shown that apart from suspected gangsters or violent criminals who are primarily targeted under the POPO, even others such as the following groups who may not fall under the so-called category of criminals or undesirable elements have been arrested and detained under the POPO:

  • those whom the police do not have enough evidence to charge in court;
  • those released by the court for lack of evidence;
  • those blacklisted by the police or third parties who want them put away;
  • those who are likely to become whistle blowers, if charged in court;
  • those whom the Government want to put away from the public domain for various reasons including public pressure.
In November 2004, 435 detainees went on a hunger strike in Simpang Renggam Detention Centre for 15 days and a number of detainees were hospitalized. The hunger strike sparked an uproar in civil society and raised many questions forcing government officials, political parties and SUHAKAM to react on the issue.

The reason for the hunger strike was not to protest the unsatisfactory detention condition at the detention centre but to draw attention to the following: :
  • They were not visited by Home Ministry officials during the first 60 days of their detention. They were unhappy and suspicious that the investigation reports on them may not have explained the full situation. They felt that the Home Minister did not have the full account or was not actually aware of the allegations against them;
  • They were never given a chance to defend themselves nor were they allowed to demand proper investigations;
  • Their detention periods are indefinite and they do not know when they will be released. At least if they are charged in court and found guilty, they would know what their crime was and the duration of their incarceration;
  • Even though their cases were referred to the Advisory Board, they were not given a chance to defend themselves nor were they informed of the outcome of their appeals to the Advisory Board.
  • Some of them were released from the detention centre after 60 days of detention but were re-arrested by police on the same grounds;
  • Some of them were released by the courts but were re-arrested;
  • Upon their re-arrests, the detainees were put on a “road-show”; they were transferred from one police station to allow the police to buy time to prepare fresh detention orders;
  • During the 60 days of detention, they alleged that the statements recorded by the police were obtained under duress through the use of force, torture, and degrading treatment;
  • During the detention period, they were not allowed to make police reports about any irregularities;
  • Those with disabilities were not given sympathetic consideration as their detention periods were also extended;
  • Those who observed all the detention requirements faithfully and did not commit any serious offences had their detention terms extended as well.
The arbitrary nature of POPO was confirmed when some of the detainees were rearrested despite successful habeas corpus applications. During the first 5 months of this year, 45 detainees were released based on habeas corpus applications. Responding to this in May 2005, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Mohd Bakri Omar said that the majority of the suspected underworld thugs released on technical grounds have been re-arrested.

Gross human rights violation

Detention without trial is a gross human rights violation. It violates Article 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and Article 8 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Federal Constitution which guarantees due process and security of persons.

There are sufficient criminal laws in the country to deal with all kinds of crime and offences to apprehend and prosecute offenders without resorting to POPO. Is significant that SUHAKAM has also called for the repeal of POPO and other detention without trial laws. Human rights organizations such as SUARAM, HAKAM, ALIRAN, Amnesty International and the Bar Council have made repeated similar calls for many, many years.

In May this year, even the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operations and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police in its report to the King and the Government specifically called for the repeal of POPO. The Commission stated that POPO has outlived its purposes and in some instances has facilitated the abuse of some fundamental liberties. The Commission recommended a May 2006 deadline for the government to implement these recommendations.

In view of this, we the undersigned organisations call for the government:
  • The immediate repeal of the POPO;

  • Not to re-arrest under the same law (or any other preventive laws) all those released by the courts through habeas corpus applications or through the recommendations of the Advisory Board ; if need be, they should be charged under existing criminal laws;

  • The police should immediately stop making any further arrests under POPO;

  • All those who are currently detained or restricted under POPO should be released immediately or be charged in open court under existing criminal laws.
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This statement is endorsed by the following organisations:

1. Alaigal
2. Aliran Kesedaran Rakyat (ALIRAN)
3. Amnesty International Malaysia (AI)
4. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
5. Campus Ministry Office, Penang Diocese (CMO)
6. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
7. Civil Rights Committee, Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
8. Community Development Centre (CDC)
9. Democratic Action Party (DAP)
10. Indigenous People Development Centre (IPDC)
11. Justice & Peace Commission, Penang Diocese (J&P)
13. MALODI (Malaysian Local Democracy Initiative)
14. MALVU (Malaysian Voters Union)
15. Malaysia Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA)
16. Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)
17. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
18. Penang Office for Human Development(POHD)
19. Persatuan Kebangsaan Hak Asasi Manusia (HAKAM)
20. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
21. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
22. Pertubuhan Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM)
23. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
24. Sisters In Islam (SIS)
25. SOS (Save Ourselves)
26. Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM)
27. SPNS
28. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
29. The Group of Concerned Citizens (GCC)
30. The International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
31. Women Force (TENAGANITA)
32. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
33. Women’s Development Collective (WDC)

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