Taking a backward step

Just two years ago, in his Malaysia Day address, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made a series of historical announcements which were celebrated by many Malaysians from all parts of the country. 

True to his promise when he first came into power, the Prime Minister announced the much-awaited repeal of the draconian laws known as the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinances. These laws were rejected by the people not only because they were obsolete and subject to abuses, but also because they violated basic human rights principles where people can be detained without trial or criminal charge and thus being deprived of their right to be heard and their right to a fair trial.

Despite the repeal of these draconian laws, the public was told that the crime rate was falling. Many Malaysians, especially those who have fallen victim to crime before, were unconvinced. They reacted furiously because street crimes were rampant; snatch thefts, robberies and break-ins were often heard of. To this, the former Inspector General of Police commented that rising crime was merely a perception of the people.

Howver in recent months we are now being told that serious crimes have been on the rise since the repeal of the said draconian laws. As a result, exactly a week ago in Parliament, the Government has sought to introduce and tabled 11 amendments bills in the Parliament to deal with crime. Amongst these, the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 have attracted most debates from both sides of the political divide and the civil society. This is largely due to the re-introduction of the powers to detain without trial, the limited scopes for judicial review and the denial of a detained person’s right to legal representation, which are all contained in the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959.

To the human rights defenders, the basic human rights principles ought to be upheld. 
The suspects ought to have legal representation in order for their sides of the story to be heard. They ought to be proven guilty in the courts of law before they are punished. Their innocence is intact until proven otherwise. On the flip side of the coin, however, we have people who believe that the police ought to be given greater power in order to combat crime effectively. 

We have people who believe that we must not let anyone off the hook for the crime they have committed. We have people who question the need to afford criminals basic human rights when criminals show no mercy when committing crime. And in their fury against the increasing crime, they have convicted and passed judgments on the suspects that they are guilty upon arrest, and they ought to be severely punished and pay the price of their deeds. But these are also the people who have forgotten that we or our loved ones could one day be the victims of such laws, that we may be detained for an alleged crime we did not commit, that we will have no avenue to challenge the detention as a result of an alleged crime we never commit. Then, we would realise that such laws are wrong and ought to be challenged.

As such, the proposed amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 ought to be sent to the Parliament Select Committee for consultations with the interested groups. 

Whilst we wish to see a significant fall in the real crime committed in the near future, we must do so in a manner that will not lead to anyone being wrongly punished for a crime they have never committed. There are measures such as increasing the number of frontline police personnel to patrol and combat crime, stricter laws like life sentence for second offence of sexual and violent crimes, and having proper, effective rehabilitation programs to educate and stop ex-convicts from re-offending, which will achieve this. 

But certainly, preventive detention laws will not significantly reduce the real crime but will very likely penalise people for crimes they never commit. Our honourable Members of Parliament ought to bear this in mind when they vote on the Amendment Bill to the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 in Parliament.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Amendment Bill to the PCA was passed 12 hours after publication of this column

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own

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