Reinstate moratorium on use of repressive laws as first step towards repeal

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The Malaysian Bar is very troubled at Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement that the cabinet has decided to withdraw the moratorium that it had imposed on the use of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, which he attributed to the recent incidents of disorderly conduct at the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Subang Jaya.

It is extremely disappointing that the government has backpedalled so quickly, particularly when there are other laws to adequately deal with the situation. Only last month, the same minister had said that a draft relating to the review of the preventive detention laws was at the final stage and that he hoped the review would be tabled at the current or next sitting of Parliament.

By withdrawing the moratorium, the Pakatan Harapan government is reneging on its commitment — made in Promise 27 of its 2018 general election manifesto – to abolish laws that it had itself described as “oppressive” and “tyrannical”. The government’s pledge would ring hollow were it to resort to the same draconian laws that it had denounced the previous administration for invoking.

Such action will invariably give rise to an irresistible inference in the public’s mind that the government did not make its election promises, which formed the basis for the rakyat’s votes for a change of government during the general election, in good faith.

Communications and Multimediam Minister Gobind Singh Deo’s statement that the moratorium “is limited to incidents that threaten national security, public order, and race relations” is ironic, in that the previous government had often justified its use of those repressive laws on the same basis.

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The Malaysian Bar has through the years repeatedly called for the urgent repeal of the these laws, as each one is unconstitutional and/or an affront to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law. These laws have been abused in the past and, while they remain on the statute book, the potential for misuse remains.

Anyone who is proven to be guilty of unlawful behaviour in respect of the incident relating to the relocation of the temple must not go unpunished. The wrongdoers must be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

What is necessary is for the police to conduct a thorough investigation of the alleged criminal acts with competence, dedication and resolve, without abrogating the rule of law, which must never be violated for the sake of expediency.

If there are gaps in laws to effectively deal with security concerns, existing laws can be amended or appropriate new laws enacted, without recourse to the repressive laws that the government had promised to abolish.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the government to immediately reinstate the moratorium imposed on those laws and to work to repeal them without delay. We are confident that the government can rise to the challenges of governing the nation in line with its commitment to respect fundamental liberties, principles of natural justice, and the rule of law.

George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.

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