Stop the abuse: Let the rule of law prevail

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We must thank Deputy Internal Minister Datuk Johari Baharom for confirming what civil society has been saying all this time. It has been our contention all along that the oppressive laws of Malaysia have been wantonly used to curb our human rights and control our freedom without any justification. There has been much abuse in the arbitrary application of these laws.

Many Malaysians have unfairly fallen victim to these unjust laws, which prevent the scrutiny or review of the courts, undermine the rule of law and make a mockery of our so-called democracy. This is intolerable in any civilised society.

But a government that holds an exalted position in the United Nations Human Rights Council cannot be guilty of violating the very principles and laws that it seeks to uphold as a member of the Council. It is an incongruous position for Malaysia to be a member of this Council when it cannot guarantee those same internationally recognised rights and principles to Malaysians.

It is in light of this that we must seriously view the present scandalous allegations involving an issue dubbed as “Freedom for Sale”. It is mind boggling, if it is true, that 5.5 million ringgit was paid to secure the release of two underworld kingpins. It is both disturbing and appalling that a Deputy Minister has been implicated in this sordid episode.

Apart from this, the facts as disclosed by the Deputy Minster condemn the police for their shoddy and haphazard work in detaining citizens – an issue which must be of great concern to all of us. The Deputy Minister is quoted by the New Straits Times (5 March 2007) as having said that “there was insufficient evidence to detain them and of late the police had also not adhered to the standard operating procedure in conducting their investigation.”

This clearly establishes the fact that there were no valid grounds to detain them because “the police investigations were flawed.” In other words, it is not only possible, it is a matter of fact, that innocent citizens have been detained on flimsy grounds. Their freedom has been robbed as a result of dubious investigations by a police force that comes across as acting not only unprofessionally but also without a conscience. When the police undertake their duties under a law that cannot be challenged – even if their investigations are shoddy and flawed as in this instance – to establish the facts that would justify the detention of Malaysian citizens, the country forfeits its moral right to occupy its coveted position on the esteemed Human Rights Council. Our human rights are being trampled upon by a police force that enjoys complete impunity.

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It is also outrageous to read that there had been delays in the submission of Emergency Ordinance files to the Minister resulting in some of them being sent back to Bukit Aman. This lackadaisical attitude and dereliction in duty on the part of the police only contribute to further delays, thus prolonging the unfair and unjust detentions of citizens, and expose the police as a body that is uncaring and irresponsible.

Ï am disappointed with the police for giving me files at the last minute. I only have three or four days to scrutinise the cases and decide whether to send these people to Simpang Renggam as they would not be brought to court,” said the Deputy Minister. Johari further states that the advisory board heard 48 cases last month, releasing 31 detainees and placing the remaining 17 under restricted residence even though he had signed orders for the 48 to be held in custody. “More detainees have been freed by the advisory board than the ministry,” he said (NST, 5 March 2007).

This is strange coming from a minister who should know the law better especially when he claims that he acts “üpon the advice of his legal officers”. What he is saying suggests that the advisory board either has more powers than the minister or that they had opted to completely ignore the minister and the law. The very term “Advisory Board” limits their powers; they are only to give advice. They do not have any other role or power under the Emergency Ordinance. That being the case, how can Johari claim that the advisory board had freed more detainees than the ministry? Can the detainees be freed without the Minister’s authorisation? Perhaps he needs to consult other “legal officers”who may be better versed with the law than the present ones he is depending on.

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Is he a confused minister or are we not aware of any new amendments to the Emergency Ordinance? If there are changes that we are ignorant of, then we would like to apologise without reservation. But on the other hand, if the minister is ignorant of the law then he deserves the boot. We cannot put the fate and freedom of citizens in the hands of a Minister who is simply not up to the task.

The Emergency Ordinance as we understand reads:

6. (1) Whenever any person has made any representations under section 5 (1) to an Advisory Board, the Advisory Board shall, within three months of the date on which such person was detained, consider such representations and make recommendations thereon to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

(2) Upon considering the recommendations of the Advisory Board under this section the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may give the Minister such directions, if any, as he shall think fit regarding the order made by the Minister; and every decision of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong thereon shall, subject to the provisions of section 7, be final, and shall not be called into question in any Court.

These provisions are identical to those provided in the Internal Security Act, 1960 for similar situations and purposes. It is therefore abundantly clear that the Advisory Board does not have any power or authority to release any detainees on their own. They only make recommendations to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong after hearing representations made by the detainees. That is all they are required and permitted to do under the law.

The Minister has indeed made a powerful case against the continued existence of the Emergency Ordinance and, by implication, against all other oppressive laws in the country. These laws give wide and unbridled authority to the police who do not function within the rule of law. Aliran, therefore, demands that these laws be abrogated immediately to prevent abuse of power and the suffering of innocent citizens at the hands of the police. Any law that denies the right of defence can never be justified for whatever reason.

The government must pay heed to the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca who said, “He who decides a case without hearing the other side…though he decides justly cannot be considered just.”

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P Ramakrishnan

President

8 March 2007

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