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Brave New World

Published: Wednesday March 18, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 18, 2015 MYT 8:03:01 AM

Beyond assurance

The purpose of any law, including the POTA, cannot be determined solely on pledges made in Parliament.

SOMETIMES a government feels that it needs to have draconian laws in order to “protect the people” from very bad sorts.

If this government operates in a country with even a modicum of democracy and the merest whiff of the rule of law, they will try to justify such laws by pointing out the grave dangers the nation is faced with. They will also try to reassure the people that these draconian laws will not be abused.

Therefore the laws will have preambles that state they are meant for only specified purposes (usually to prevent violence), and there may well be impassioned speeches in parliament about how these laws will not be used for political reasons.

If you are above the age of 70 and an avid follower of politics, what I said above may sound familiar.

That is because this is exactly what happened when the Government introduced the Internal Security Act in 1960.

The preamble of the act suggests it is meant to suppress violence (at the time the source of the violence was communist insurgents) and in Parliament Tun Abdul Razak made an eloquent speech about how the Act would categorically not be used against political opponents thus ensuring that Malaysian democracy would not be threatened.

Well, we all know how the ISA was used over the years, don’t we?

Now we are hearing exactly the same sounds with regard to the new Prevention of Terrorism Act, This new Act will allow for detention without trial just like the ISA.

And just like in the past, we hear politicians talking about how utterly necessary this POTA is and how it will not be used for political reasons but only to stop terrorists.

It is like history repeating itself.

Now I can point out many things, like the fact we already have laws that can be used against terrorists.

I could also say that whenever a government wants to introduce something nasty, the first thing they do is try to scare the living daylights out of the people.

Fear makes one blind to many things. I could elaborate on these points, but I prefer to talk about another consideration.

If the ISA could have started life as a law to deal with violence from communist insurgents and with the government of the day’s assurances of its proper use, and yet it later becomes the most notorious law of the country in its use against political dissidents, why then should the new POTA be any different?

I believe that over the last couple of years, the use of laws like the Sedition Act against any voices of dissent against the Government (with the latest target being Nurul Izzah Anwar) is so intensive because the ISA has been repealed.

If the ISA were still around, how many people would now be languishing in detention without trial? Would we be facing another Operation Lallang like in the late 1980s? I submit that this is not outside the realm of possibility.

Therefore, seeing the penchant that this government has in stifling dissent; seeing how they would use any law at hand to do so; seeing as how history has shown us that once a government has a powerful weapon in its arsenal like the ISA, then no amount of parliamentary reassurances and preambles will be of much use against the abuse of power; given all this, then the POTA must be opposed.

Our freedoms are being disrespected so alarmingly that they feel non-existent. The last thing we need is another law to take away what little is left.

> Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Columnists, Azmi Sharom, columnist

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