Twelve men were detained under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) on October 11–12, among them two state parliamentarians from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), part of the Pakatan Harapan ruling coalition.
The police announced the men were part of a network of supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The detainees are accused of promoting the LTTE on social media and raising funds for the group, which is officially listed as a "terrorist organisation". Five of the 12 claim they have been tortured and abused during their detention.
Under SOSMA, people can be detained without trial for 28 days and are automatically denied bail. In its first year of operation, SOSMA has been used to detain more than 200 people.
Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) Deputy Chairperson S Arutchelvan (Arul) is a veteran of the campaign against the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA), previously used to detain people without trial. Arul told Green Left Weekly that SOSMA must be urgently repealed.
He also condemned this unwarranted attempt to criminalise support for the right of Tamils to self-determination, human rights and welfare in Sri Lanka.
Eighty organisations, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the Bar Council of Malaysia have called for the repeal of SOSMA.
Pakatan Harapan’s election manifesto also pledged to repeal SOSMA, but this is just one of many election promises it has failed to keep.
“SOSMA has all the DNA of the ISA — which had its origins under British colonial rule,” Arul said.
“It was used to detain independence activists, socialists, trade unionists and other social movement activists. When the British passed on their repressive state to their neo-colonial puppets, they kept these repressive powers.
“Our current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used the ISA to detain political opponents when he previously headed a Barisan Nasional government. Several members of the government he now heads were previously detained by him under the ISA.”
Mahathir claims he had nothing to do with these latest detentions. His finance minister, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng claims the detentions were a “deep state” operation.
However, Arul is sceptical. “Does this mean the police are truly so independent that they call the shots while the PM and the Home Minister are not involved?” he said.
“Mahathir has always had a standard answer. He blamed the 1987 Operasi Lallang — when more than a hundred social movement activists and other political dissidents were detained — on the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
“He told then-Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew that he was not aware that then-Reformasi leader Anwar Ibrahim was arrested under the ISA by the police in 1998.
“He also claimed initially that when Anwar appeared in court with a black eye from a police beating that this was a desperate, self-inflicted wound by Anwar to get public sympathy.
“Only after massive weekend protests demanding the IGP’s resignation did Mahathir call a Royal Commission of Inquiry, which found the IGP guilty and responsible for Anwar’s black eye.
“Now, looking at many earlier incidents and now the LTTE-SOSMA arrest, was Mahathir really not ‘in the know’, or was he the mastermind of these repressive sweeps?
“Is it a case of the 'deep state' jeopardising the Mahathir government or working hand in hand with him?”
The current IGP, Abdul Hamid Bador, was handpicked by Mahathir in May, though some parties in the Pakatan Harapan were not happy with his appointment, Arul explained.
“Both Mahathir and Muhyuddin have defended the arrests. All the main leaders of Pakatan Harapan, except the DAP, including Anwar Ibrahim, have said that the police must be allowed to do their work and investigation.
“Back in 2006, Mahathir accused his successor, former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, of turning the country into a police state.
“It was reported by the Associated Press, which quoted Mahathir as saying in a press conference: 'The habit of asking police to frighten people should be stopped'. If the Badawi-era state was a police state, then what do you call Mahathir’s state? Who is now using the police to frighten who?
“The Pakatan Harapan government needs to fulfil its election promise to repeal SOSMA. They have been entrusted with the power to rule and govern. They cannot subcontract this job to the ‘deep state'.
“During the long mass struggle for democracy against the previous Najib government, the people lost a lot of their previous fear of the police so the police may have an interest in rebuilding that fear.
“Pakatan Harapan should not forget that it won the last general election on the back of the democracy movement on the streets. They have a duty to oppose any return to the bad old days of police repression.”