Let’s be honest, Bersih 5 had a pretty bumpy ride throughout. Many people had initially made it clear to us that they wouldn’t be going for various reasons. And when BERSIH 5 actually came, we found that it had a lower attendance than the last one (granted that BERSIH 4 went on for 2 days while BERSIH 5 was less than a day long).
And not to mention that just a day before BERSIH 5, people found out that BERSIH’s chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah had been arrested by the police!
Maria Chin and Mandeep weren’t the only people arrested by the police in the week leading up to BERSIH 5. Many people from other organisations, not just BERSIH, were also arrested for various offences.
But what shocked many people after that was the law which was used to charge Maria. You can see that initially it was reported that she was arrested for committing activity detrimental to democracy (which could see her jailed for a maximum of 15 years), but on the day of BERSIH 5, one of her lawyers said that she had actually been arrested under a much more frightening act called SOSMA.
How frightening you ask? Well initially after her arrest, no one was able to contact her for about a day. No one knew where she was, and she had no lawyers with her. And guess what, it’s all completely legal. And when people actually did get in contact with her, it was reported she was being held in a cell with no windows, and no bed, but she did have 2 lightbulbs which were on 24 hours a day. So yes, this SOSMA is a pretty terrifying thing.
SOSMA? Is it related to CILISOS?
No, this piece of law has nothing to do with us (yet, maybe). SOSMA actually stands for Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, a law that was passed just a few years back in 2012.
In fact, we actually covered SOSMA in 2014, comparing it to the US’ version of this law, the Patriot Act.
If you want a clearer picture, you can be about it here. Anyway, on the surface, it’s actually not as bad as what the US has. But the thing is, there are other things that we need to consider before saying if SOSMA is bad or good.
When it was introduced in 2012, it was reported that when it came into effect, it would replace the Internal Security Act, or better known as the legendary ISA. And even back then, people were already wondering if SOSMA and ISA were any different from each other.
This article shows that probably the biggest difference between the ISA and SOSMA is how long the police can keep a person detained. With ISA it was 60 days, but with SOSMA it was reduced to 28 days. Our graph above also paints SOSMA as better than America’s Patriot Act, but the thing is, just because it’s “better” doesn’t mean it’s “good”. For example, the days have been reduced but it is still detention without trial.
The same article points out that SOSMA is so vague that anything could possibly be a “security offence”.
“Such a broad definition allows our government to deem, for example, the Bersih 2.0 rally, possession of Che Guevera T-shirts and Seksualiti Merdeka, a sexuality rights festival; as national security threats.” – The Nut Graph
And what do you know, they managed to accurately predict that it would be used on BERSIH!
You won’t believe who are the other people considered to be as dangerous as Maria Chin
SOSMA has been used on quite a number of people since it was implemented. Prior to Maria Chin, here are some of the people we could find:
- 108 followers of the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultanate involved in the Lahad Datu standoff (2013).
- Yazid Sufaat and Muhammad Hilmi Hasim, both suspected to be associated with al-Qaeda (2013).
- Khairuddin Abu Hassan and Matthias Chiang, after they went around the world making police reports about 1MDB, and charged with trying to topple the government (2015).
- Another 22 suspected followers of the Sulu Sultanate (2016).
So Maria Chin has been lumped together with yes, people opposing the government, but ALSO people who have been branded as terrorists and militants! And remember how we mentioned that SOSMA was pretty vague? Well the gomen actually mentioned it too. Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, said that SOSMA could be used for any activity which was deemed as threat to national peace. And the gomen said that Maria Chin was arrested under SOSMA NOT because of terrorism or even because of BERSIH but because police reports had been made against her.
“The act is actually an enabling act to the Criminal Procedure Code… she (Maria Chin) was charged under the Criminal Procedure Code but using SOSMA as the enabler to assist police in investigating her.” – Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Deputy Home Minister, as quoted by malaysiandigest.com
However, we weren’t able to pinpoint why exactly the police used SOSMA on her. DPM Zahid Hamidi himself said that he doesn’t know, and asked reporters to instead ask the Inspector-General of Police or the Attorney-General. (Although some say that he is actually the best person to ask.) But what we do know is that back in September this year, our IGP did mention that Maria Chin was being investigated for allegedly trying to topple the gomen.
So in other words, it seems that they are putting her in jail for 28 days so that the police can investigate her to determine whether she should continue to stay in there or not. Or even worse….
The maximum punishment under SOSMA is actually the death penalty!
Or life imprisonment. But while it’s good to bear in mind that some offences under SOSMA are so bad that a convict may forfeit their life, as far as we know, no one has been given the death sentence so far. Here’s what’s we could find about those charged so far:
- The two people suspected to be involved with al-Qaeda were sentenced to 7 years jail earlier this year.
- 9 of the people involved in Lahad Datu were said to be facing the death sentence, but because there was no evidence of their direct involvement with the violence, they were given life imprisonment instead.
- The two who went around making reports on 1MDB, their cases are still ongoing.
So it seems that the death sentence would only be given to the most severe cases. However, there’s an interesting quote from our PM when SOSMA was first introduced to replace the ISA back in 2014.
“Kita memang ambil tindakan berdasarkan undang-undang negara tetapi bukanlah dengan cara tangkap ikut rasa kepada mana-mana individu kita tangkap bawah ISA. Saya percaya kalau buat macam itu, lagi ramai orang marah pada kerajaan,”
“Tentu sekali majoriti rakyat Malaysia tidak mahu keadaan sedemikian. Mereka mahu kita merupakan masyarakat yang ada latitud atau ruang untuk mengeluarkan pendapat walaupun ia kontra atau berbeza,” – Najib Tun Razak, 2014. As reported by Astro Awani
Well, guess what? Turns out he was right… cos..
Many people have voiced their anger at SOSMA, even from BN!
“We are just heartbroken right now. She is fighting for fair and clean elections. But she is rewarded by going to prison. Why is my mother being treated like a terrorist? She hasn’t done anything wrong,” – Maria’s eldest son, Azumin, The Star
Many people from across the political divide have come out question Maria Chin’s arrest or just the BERSIH arrests in general. For example:
- The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam)
- Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Opposition Leader
- Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, Vice President of PAS
- Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, UMNO MP for Gua Musang
- The US state department, who said they were troubled by her arrest
And 800 other people who showed up to support Maria Chin last night at Dataran Merdeka!
In fact, others have actually been calling for SOSMA itself to be repealed even before this. Last year a few BN flers actually teamed up with Tun M to release a statement condemning the use of SOSMA on the two guys making police reports about 1MDB. In fact, other parties like Amnesty International, Suaram, and Lawyers for Liberty (twice!) have all called for SOSMA to be repealed at one point or another after it was enacted.
Activist Adrian Lim has also created a petition for the release of SOSMA, which has garnered over 43,000 signatures in the last three days. If you like, you can sign it here.
And if you want to really make your voice heard, BERSIH has said that they can continue to gather every night in Dataran Merdeka UNTIL she is released.