Aliran endorses the call by MP Charles Santiago, the chairperson of the parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs, to the police to respect the people’s constitutional right to engage in open discussions and constructive debate.
Article 10 of our Federal Constitution spells out our rights to “freedom of speech, assembly and association”.
Santiago had criticised the police for calling in Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy for questioning after the human rights NGO had organised a forum entitled “The LTTE conundrum, Sosma and a draconian law” on 25 November.
As Santiago pointed out, we expect the Pakatan Harapan government to be more open and progressive as the coalition had openly campaigned to usher in legal reforms to Malaysia prior to the 2018 general election.
We expect this government to provide space for public discourse and create an environment for democracy to thrive.
So it is disheartening to note that the police have called in Sevan for questioning “six or seven times” since PH came to power. This is not what we expect from good governance practices of a reform-minded government that values openness, constructive criticism, healthy debates and differences of opinions.
Perhaps, as Santiago suggested, what the police are doing is not in line with the wishes of the government. If that is the case, then the home affairs minister must reach out to the police and brief them about its reform agenda.
Aliran reiterates its call to the PH government to fulfil its electoral pledge to repeal oppressive laws especially those that allow detention without charge or trial such as the Sedition Act, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
In this connection, we support the attorney general’s decision not to contest the High Court’s position that the denial of bail under Sosma is unconstitutional. The High Court ruled that Section 13 of Sosma, which prohibits the judiciary from even considering bail, violates the concept of the separation of powers and undermines the role of the judiciary.
The judgment and the attorney general’s decision not to appeal is a step in the right direction – but it is not enough. Parliament must review all existing laws and immediately repeal any provisions that allow for detention without trial or without due process. Lawmakers must ensure the laws they draft do not usurp the powers of an independent judiciary in a democracy.
Since the PH government took over, we have been looking forward to progressive legal reforms in line with its pledge – but there has been precious little progress in that direction. The common excuse we hear is the government needs more time.
Well, close to 18 months have passed and this ‘excuse’ is fast wearing thin.
Aliran executive committee
19 December 2019