Malaysia’s parliament repeals controversial provision in security law

Suganya Lingan and Nisha David
2022.03.24
Kuala Lumpur
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Malaysia’s parliament repeals controversial provision in security law Families of some people arrested under SOSMA gather with opposition party members and NGO representatives outside the parliament building to protest against a provision in the act that allows for detention without trial, in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 21, 2019.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Malaysia will no longer allow suspects to be held for 28 days without charge for alleged national security offenses, after parliament voted down a proposal to renew a controversial provision of a law that critics say often is misused for political reasons.

The loss of the parliamentary vote late Wednesday was a major embarrassment for the government, analysts say, especially because more than 30 of its lawmakers were absent.

The government’s defeat on the vote over the Special Offenses (Security Measures) Act – or SOSMA – has also prompted calls from within the prime minister’s party to break a historic agreement with the opposition, and call for snap polls.

Maria Chin Abdullah, a lawmaker with the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) who was detained for 11 days in 2016 under SOSMA when she was an activist fighting for clean government and fair elections in Malaysia, said she was happy the provision had been repealed.

“Huge morale booster! Thank you Thank you! Dewan rejects motion to renew SOSMA’s detention without trial,” she posted on Twitter.

SOSMA should be abolished entirely, said Nalini Elumalai, a human rights activist.

“The 28-day detention period under SOSMA has no judicial oversight, and it violates the international human rights standards for prompt judicial review,” she posted on Twitter.

In 2020, Malaysia had detained 1,032 individuals without trial by August, according to the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Malaysian human rights practices.

On Thursday, Musa Hasan, Malaysia’s former national police chief, expressed concern about the detention provision not being renewed.

“Some politicians think that security laws will restrict them from engaging in certain activities. That’s why a lot of them reject security laws,” he told BenarNews.

“You must understand that Malaysia is exposed to threats without the provision [that was rejected by parliament]. To me, every country has its own security laws. If Malaysia does not want such laws, face the consequences if anything untoward occurs.”

Meanwhile, the current inspector general of police said members of the force would no longer enforce the SOSMA clause that frames the provision of up to 28 days in detention without charge – starting July 31, when its validity ends.

“Instead, we will use provisions under existing laws, including those under the Criminal Procedure Code, to detain and remand suspects who are under investigation,” Sani Abdullah Sani Acrly said.

UMNO lawmakers MIA

The government’s loss in its bid to renew the detention provision marks the first time in recent history that an administration has lost a parliamentary vote, said political analyst Azizuddin Mohd Sani of Universiti Utara Malaysia. 

“It’s a shame for the government to have this failure to pass the motion,” Azizuddin told BenarNews.

“This has never happened in Malaysia, not in recent history at least.”

Still, the government lost the bid by only a single vote – 86 lawmakers voted against it and 85 for its renewal.

To the consternation of the United Malays National Organization, the party that leads the ruling coalition, more than 30 of its lawmakers were not present in parliament during the vote on the motion. Those not present included UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The defeat prompted a section of UMNO in favor of snap polls to press even harder to advance the general election.

Nazri Aziz, an UMNO lawmaker, for one said in parliament that the government had no “moral ground” to stand on and should call for an election and let the people decide who should govern the country.

Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, an analyst with the International Islamic University of Malaysia, said that questions have since arisen about whether the vote was sabotaged so the government would call for snap elections. That was unlikely, he said.

“I don’t think there was a plan to have this bill defeated, but since the bill was rejected, it may give a convenient excuse for some UMNO leaders to justify the need to have the general election earlier,” he told BenarNews.

“The absence of the MPs is not something new. Some of our MPs habitually skip parliament. Most of them do not give much importance to the legislative process. But the failure for the government to get enough votes simply points to its weak leadership.”

Other UMNO lawmakers are calling for dissolving a cooperation agreement with the main opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, which, they alleged, reneged on its promise by voting against the detention provision in parliament.

UMNO chief Zahid said the opposition, through its move in parliament on Wednesday, showed that it did not want political stability in the country.  

“When the motion tabled this time failed due to lack of support from the Opposition, it is appropriate for all of us to conclude that they have broken their promises, violated the agreement and completely ignored their previous commitments,” he said on Facebook.

But Pakatan representatives said that the agreement states they must be consulted on every motion in parliament and they were not, therefore they could vote any way they liked and had not violated the agreement.

“We never agreed with the motion on SOSMA,” said Anthony Loke, leader of the Democratic Action Party, which is a part of Pakatan,

“The question is, has the prime minister lost confidence after the motion on SOSMA was voted down? And the answer is no.”

Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to the report.

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