Transformation: A sharp U-turn? 

Jailing or even executing innocent people has become the greatest blemish in the judicial world. We hate the heinous criminals, but that does not mean we should therefore sacrifice our judicial proceedings.

Lim Sue Goan, Sin Chew Daily 

The detention without trial stipulated in the Prevention of Crime (Amendment and Extension) Act 2013 has drawn strong objection from political parties and NGOs alike, many claiming it is a “reincarnation” of the Internal Security Act (ISA).

This issue should be looked into from three different perspectives: whether the police need such power, judicial justice and the principles of the country’s transformation programme.

Since the Ops Cantas Khas was kicked off on August 17, it is undeniable that serious crimes have fallen drastically. Based on the statistics released by the police on Sept 23, the incidence of armed robberies has fallen by 90%, murders by 33.78%, gang robberies by 23.58% and robberies by 26%.

Moreover, home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said the police had arrested 8,898 individuals suspected of secret society activities as of Sept 18.

It cannot be denied that the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 has been very effective in tackling secret societies. The Act allows the police to detain a suspect for up to 72 days, giving the police ample time to conduct the investigations.

No developed country in this world has resorted to detention without trial to bring crime at bay. They are achieving this through professional competency and state-of-the-art technology.

Unless we admit we are nowhere near them, for a country aspiring to be a developed nation soon, this is by no means an honour we can take pride in.

Increase in crime has been attributed to a host of factors, and triad gangs are only one of them. Other factors include enforcement and case solving efficiency, mobilisation of police force, infiltration of foreign criminal elements, collapse of traditional values, and failure in our school and family education, among others. Giving the police excessive powers is never a good solution, for if things really work this way, drug traffickers will have gone extinct in this country as mandatory death awaits them.

Prior to the repeal of the ISA and Emergency Ordinance, our country had been plagued by deteriorating public safety, and so the key to this problem is not the power given to the police.

The authorities must never extend their powers owing to the excessive fears of the public for crime.

In addition, detention without trial also contravenes the proceedings of justice in the judiciary system. Under the UN convention, no individuals should be deliberately arrested or detained and anyone arrested is entitled to the right of an open and fair trial.

Moreover, under the principles of law, a person remains innocent until he is convicted. Giving the police the power of detaining a suspect without trial for two years is like giving them a dual role of both enforcers and judges.

Jailing or even executing innocent people has become the greatest blemish in the judicial world. We hate the heinous criminals, but that does not mean we should therefore sacrifice our judicial proceedings.

Although the prime minister has earlier assured the public that the government would offer all the necessary support to assist the police to battle crime. Nevertheless, he also said on August 19 that the government was not yet ready at the current stage to adopt any preventive act to prevent the occurrence of crime, and that the government would seek a balance point between combating crime and preserving the interest and human rights of the public.

Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail has said based on the efficiency of the police today, our existing laws have been sufficient to tackle the issue crime, and he finds it no reason for the government to put in place a new preventive act.

Mahathir is against the repeal of ISA while Umno ministers have been arguing about whether the crime prevention act should be restored. This probably explains why detention without trial has been able to be revived.

In addition, there is no assurance from the authorities that the act will not be abused, just like the ISA was previously abused to deal with political dissidents.

Although the power of detention has been transferred from the home minister to a three-member crime prevention committee, and a detainee can also seek to apply for judicial review of his detention at the High Court, none of the committee members has been from the legal profession or human rights organisation. If all the members of the committee have been public servants, will they ever overrule the detention?

Moreover, the detention period under ISA and EO could be as long as two years while under the crime prevention act, a person could be detained for up to four years, meaning a person would have lost his precious freedom for four long years if he is eventually found to be innocent.

The police have previously rejected the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Now that the police are to be given extended powers, who will be there to watch over them?

The prime minister’s initiative to announce the repeal of ISA on Sept 15, 2011 was meant to put the Malaysian laws on the right track, but permitting detention without trial does not augur well with the principles of our transformation programme.

The principles of national transformation programme such as transparency, incorruption and justice must never be denied deliberately. Unfortunately recent developments have shown that we are actually going backwards, including the introduction of bumiputra economic empowerment policy, and the MACC’s notion that money politics during Umno’s elections is purely the party’s internal problem.

The resurrection of detention without trial shows that the nation indeed is in urgent need of a systemic reform, or there will be a sharp turn of our transformation programme.