Why is the Umno-BN government using the Sedition Act to arrest people now?

    It seems clear that they are using this opportunity to destroy Anwar Ibrahim and his party PKR, observes Francis Loh

    by Francis Loh · 24 March 2015

    On 10 February 2015, the Federal Court found Anwar Ibrahim guilty in the Sodomy II case and ordered his imprisonment.

    The learned judges’ ‘guilty’ decision in Sodomy II – which first went to trial on 3 February 2010 and had gone the distance from the High Court to the Appeals Court before ending up in Federal Court – was criticised by many sectors of the Malaysian public from ordinary rakyat to learned lawyers including the Bar Council.

    International human rights groups like the ICJ also voiced that the decision was a major setback to human rights and democratisation in Malaysia.

    Quite naturally, people took to expressing their dissent and dissatisfaction too. For it seems as though the courts, the police, the attorney general’s chambers, quite apart from the Umno-BN government in power, could no longer be relied upon to deliver justice and uphold the rule of law in the country.

    In response to such protests in the form of rallies, media statements, blog posts and social media updates, and even a speech read on behalf of the detained Opposition Leader in Parliament, a new wave of arrests and detention of people who have expressed their opinions – Opposition politicians, activists, and people who tweet – has taken place.

    Our Constitution grants us the right to express ourselves, to assemble and to associate. As the prime minister has announced in the United Nations, in Oxford and all over, we are a moderate country, a democracy.

    So it is most disturbing that the authorities are now resorting to the anachronistic colonial-era Sedition Act 1948 (which the prime minister had earlier promised to get rid of) and the Peaceful Assembly Act, 2012 (which, ironically, can be used to limit our democratic right to assemble) as the bases of these recent arrests.

    In several cases, the detainees were being detained and investigated under both these Acts. In yet other cases, these Acts have been used together with other existing coercive laws like the Penal Code. Worse, there are plans to introduce an Anti-Terrorism Act with draconian features including detention without trial.

    The case of Nurul Izzah

    Nurul Izzah Anwar, the two-time Lembah Pantai Member of Parliament, was first asked to appear at the Dang Wangi Police Station on 16 March to answer queries concerning her participation in a Free Anwar rally at Sogo on 14 Feburary. So she showed up at Dang Wangi at the allocated time.

    She was then asked to present herself for investigations under section 4 of the Sedition Act too. She had volunteered to the investigating police officer in charge that she would do so as soon as she had completed her first round of questioning re: the Sogo rally.

    As her lawyer has stated, Nurul Anwar had nothing to hide, realising fully that the speech she gave, which was actually on behalf of her father who remains Opposition Leader in Parliament, was protected under parliamentary immunity.

    As it turned out, she was not allowed to give her statement to the police. Instead, she was detained overnight. As intimated to her by the arresting officer, he was under orders from above not to take her statement, but to detain her!

    According to Nurul Izzah’s lawyer, the IGP had blatantly lied when he suggested in public that Nurul was being detained in order to get a statement from her. In fact, Nurul Izzah had voluntarily gone to the police station to offer her statements on both matters.

    The Opposition and civil society groups then called for the IGP to resign or to be sacked for blatantly lying about the details of Nurul’s arrest. It appears, however, that no one in authority was going to listen to the Opposition and CSOs even though they were highlighting the critical question of the integrity of the police system, indeed, of the IGP who lead the police force.

    Fortunately, Nurul Izzah was let out the next day. No doubt, this was because the story of her unjust arrest had gone viral and was carried not only in the local alternative media but the regional and global mainstream media too, from Jakarta, Bangkok and New Delhi to London, New York, Canberra and the Middle-East. Everywhere. Incidentally, the claims by Nurul’s lawyer – of a lying IGP – was NOT carried in the local mainstream media.

    Prior to Nurul Izzah’s case

    Such arbitrary harassment and bullying of Nurul Izzah is not an isolated incident. Many other Opposition leaders and CSO activists had been arrested prior to Nurul Izzah’s case.

    On 19 Feburary, at 7.00pm, Arutchelvan, the secretary-general of the PSM, was detained under section 4(1) (c) of the Sedition Act for stating that the Court’s decision on 10 February to jail Anwar was a “political judgement beyond reasonable doubt”. He was taken to the Dang Wangi Police Station

    On 20 February, Lawrence Jeyaraj was detained for tweeting about Sirul, Altantuya, the prime minister, Shafee, Saiful and the IGP over the Altantuya and Anwar Ibrahim cases. He was held until the next morning.

    On 21 February, student activist Adam Adli and head of Jingga 13 Fariz Musa, also a PKR leader, were held in the Jinjang Police Station under section 143 of the Penal Code for ‘illegal assembly’.

    On 8 March, Nik Nazmi was initially detained in Jinjang and then brought to Dang Wangi for questioning.

    On 10 March, Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli was also arrested under section 143 of the Penal Code, and under Sec 9 (5) of the Public Assembly Act. In his case, Rafizi was detained in Dang Wangi after having completed making a police report on the financial mismanagement of 1MDB. Like Nik Nazmi, he was investigated under the same Sec 9(5) of the PAA and Section 143 of the Penal Code.

    On 14 March 2015, Adam Adli and Manjeet Singh were held for investigations on the 7 March #KitaLawan rally. They were released on 17 March.

    Outside Klang Valley

    On 10 February, several elected Opposition leaders in Johore – Jimmy Puah (Bukit Batu PKR), Liow Cai Tung (Johor Jaya DAP), Cheo Yee How (Pengkalan Rinting DAP) were called in to the Seri Alam Johore District Police Headquarters under Section 9 of the Peaceful Assembly Act over their participation in a ‘solidarity gathering’ in support of Anwar Ibrahim in Taman Molek, Johor Baru, on 10 February 2015.

    On 4 March, Tanjong MP Ng Wei Aik in Penang was asked to give a statement regarding his allegedly seditious statement regarding Anwar Ibrahim’s jailing which appeared in the Chinese daily, Kwonghua.

    After Nurul Izzah’s case

    On 19 March, PKR human rights and legal bureau deputy chair S Jayathas was detained for questioning, also about the Sogo rally.

    On 20 March, PKR vice-president Tian Chua was also called in for his involvement in the Sogo rally. He had actually been brought to Dang Wangi the day before but was allowed to return home on condition he showed up on Friday, which he did, resulting in his detention.

    On 22 March, Eric Paulsen, founder and executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, was taken in, one day ahead of a press conference that was to be called by Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH), at Paulsen was scheduled to speak. The main item of the PC was to highlight concern about police investigations under the Sedition Act against those who are legitimately expressing dissent.

    As well, GHAH, a movement supported by 133 CSOs in Malaysia, aimed to get rid of the anachronistic Sedition Act, and intended to highlight how police tweeting was creating a climate of intimidation and suppressing expression.

    Justice must be done and seen to be done…but where?

    The police appear rather anxious, and it must be admitted, even efficient, in detaining these Opposition leaders and critics.

    Contrast this with their lack of enthusiasm and slow motion ways in dealing with Ibrahim Ali, who had called for the burning of Bibles.

    Or their dealing with the cases of Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the minister for agriculture and agro-based industry, who had called Malays to boycott all Chinese traders, and of Dr Mashitah Ibrahim, the minister in prime minister’s department, who had alleging that the Chinese in Kedah had burnt the Qur‘an in a prayer ritual – when no such incident had taken place.

    Worse, the IGP himself had delayed arresting the Muslim convert who was ordered by the Civil Court to return the child the latter had seized from his ex-wife, who had custody of the child. Yes, the IGP has argued that the Civil Court’s order contradicted the Sharia Court’s. Be that as it may, inaction on his part did cause loss of faith among the rakyat in the course of justice, not to mention in him as the IGP.

    Six years on, Teoh Beng Hock has still not been given his due of justice, as a recent demonstration of 30 family members and friends of the deceased outside the MACC office reminded us. It was especially disturbing to read that three MACC officers who were involved in investigations into Teoh’s death had since been promoted!

    On 18 March, amidst this new round of arrests, the Court of Appeal sentenced 13 Pas supporters who had demonstrated against the appointment of Zambry Abdul Kadir as the MB of Perak in February 2009 to 10 months jail and a RM5,000 fine.

    About turn

    Just four years ago, in 2011, the prime minister announced the repeal of the draconian Internal Security Act, the Emergency Ordinance and the Banishment Act. A year later, he announced the repeal of the Sedition Act.

    More recently, however, we have seen an about turn: detention without trial has been brought back via the Prevention of Crime Act and the prime minister recanted on his promise to repeal the colonial-era Sedition Act.

    Worse, an Anti-Terrorism Act that would allow detention without trial would be introduced in this sitting of Parliament. Unlike the previous prime minister, who reintroduced parliamentary select committees to conduct public hearings on important laws and amendments prior to their introduction in Parliament, there has been no consultation whatsoever with parliamentarians – let alone with the public!

    (Incidentally, it was also under the previous prime minister that a Royal Commission into the workings of the Royal Malaysian Police was conducted. Among others, the Commission, headed by a former IGP, had recommended the setting up of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. Under the current prime minister, this recommendation has been pending since 2005.)

    According to the grapevine, this new law would allow the government to accumulate new powers with little checks or balances.

    Why is there need for such an Act at this time? If it is to facilitate detention without trial, the Prevention of Crime Act (Amendments) 2012 already allows for detention without trial for up to two years. Sosma, 2012, introduced to replace the ISA, allows for electronic surveillance to establish a case against suspects.

    Detention under such unverifiable grounds of suspicion lends itself to abuse. The legal fraternity and other groups concerned with human rights have already expressed their concerns about according extra powers without adequate checks and balances.

    Why now?

    The questions that arise are: why are they arresting all these people for expressing their dissatisfaction at this time? Indeed, why did the Umno-BN government spend so much time, money and personnel, going after Anwar Ibrahim? And why is there a need for more stringent control of citizens in this moderate and democratic country?

    It seems clear that they are using this opportunity to destroy Anwar Ibrahim and his party PKR.

    Not that they have not tried to destroy its partners, the DAP and Pas. Indeed, the overall plan since the Umno-BN’s poor performance in GE13 in 2013 has been to split the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

    Remember the attempts to deregister the DAP in the run up to the elections? And the 1Malaysia handouts when they spent millions and millions to buttress the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP – to little avail?

    Or the current support by Umno for the conservative Islamists within Pas to introduce hudud law in Kelantan – which will drive a wedge between Pas and its partners, especially DAP?

    In turn, a wedge might also be driven into the Muslim party to split those pushing for the implementation of Sharia law and the more exclusive Islamic state from those more inclined towards a more inclusive Islamic welfare state. Coincidentally, the former is more in favour of working closely with Umno, even forming a unity government with Umno, as opposed to the latter, who value close ties with Pakatan Rakyat.

    It is commonly believed that it is Anwar and his party that held the central ground that pulled the coalition together. In fact, it wasn’t only Anwar, but also the older group of leaders like Nik Aziz, Fadzil Noor, Hadi Awang, Karpal Singh, Lim Kit Siang and Syed Husin Ali who developed close ties with one another, and held the coalition together.

    Several of these leaders are now gone and Anwar is in jail once again. For Umno-BN, this appears the most opportune time to isolate the DAP by painting it as a chauvinistic party, to drive a wedge into Pas to break it up, to arrest and destroy the young enthusiastic leaders of PKR while their leader is in jail again, and to break up the Pakatan Rakyat.

    Umno itself is experiencing an internal struggle too. Former prime minister Dr Mahathir has openly called for the prime minister to step aside. The recent declaration of support for the prime minister by the 14 BN component parties suggests all is not so well.

    Alas, perhaps the only common project that Umno leaders agree upon is the destruction of Anwar Ibrahim and his party, and the breaking up the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

    For the rest of us, and now even more than before, we need an independent judiciary, elected representatives who serve the people, an efficient and corrupt-free bureaucracy, an excellent educational system, and above all an impartial police force. We also need rule of law – not rule by law.

    Francis Loh

    Co-editor, Aliran e-Newsletter

    24 March 2015

    SOURCE aliran.com