PETALING JAYA, July 23 — Efforts to resurrect preventive detention from the Emergency Ordinance (EO) to address a purported spike in crime are misplaced, according to lawyers who point out that the repealed law was introduced to combat communist insurgents rather than common criminals.
Repealed in 2011 as part of the Najib administration’s raft of legal reforms, calls — largely from the Home Ministry and police force — have grown for its powers to detain suspects indefinitely without trial to be reintroduced in new legislation.
On Sunday, former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Noor made the latest pitch by saying police were now “helpless” to tackle a gangsterism menace allegedly grown “out of control” in the absence of the EO.
“It’s like they have broken wings. Things are no longer like they were before. Intelligence gathered can only be documented,” he said in an interview published by Mingguan Malaysia, the weekend edition of Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia.
The former IGP’s reasoning did not, however, hold sway with civil rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan.
“EO or preventive detention is not to combat crimes, it is mainly to combat terrorism,” Syahredzan told The Malay Mail Online yesterday, adding that detention without trial was rarely advocated outside of Malaysia.
Beyond the misapplication of the EO, Syahredzan also noted that the crime issues now being blamed on the repeal of the colonial-era law existed even when it had still been available to authorities.
“Crime is a problem for a long time, even before the Emergency Ordinance was abolished,” he said.
The lawyer’s opinion appears to have the backing of the government efficiency unit Pemandu, whose previous data showed that crime cases peaked in the years 2004-2007, before the EO was removed, and later declined in 2012 — or the year after the law was repealed.
Rahim was also not the first to pin an alleged spike in crime on the loss of detention powers, with Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi telling Parliament earlier this month he had statistics “derived empirically” that 90 per cent of organised crimes in Selangor were carried out by ex-detainees released from the Simpang Renggam EO detention centre.
He did not, however, provide the statistics.
Lawyers for Liberty adviser Eric Paulsen described the attribution of the increase in crime to the repeal of the EO as “shockingly irresponsible.”
“There is no cogent evidence to link the rise of crime to the EO’s repeal and such an excuse looks like an easy way out for those responsible, namely the home minister and PDRM,” he said, referring to the police force by its Malay initials.
He remarked law enforcers only want to take “short cuts” in spite of existing laws already being in place for them to deal with the crime menace.
“Our laws are already strong, one of the strongest in the world… they (police force) just need to get back to basics, and prevent crimes from happening,” he told The Malay Mail Online.
The EO was introduced in 1969 to deal with the May 13 riots and gave the police broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without trial.
Authorities say the law was later reserved for “hardened criminals” and organised crime, but had used its powers against everyday snatch thieves and, most controversially, six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members including MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj as they were headed for the 2011 Bersih rally.
Despite the clamour for its return, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said last week that he would never agree to the reintroduction of “preventive detention” in the enactment of any new law to replace the EO.
By Liyana Shazreen, the Malay Mail