The Group of 25 (G25) wishes to express its deepest concern regarding the arrest of Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah on Nov 18, 2016 on the eve of the Bersih 5 public rally and her detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
Sosma was enacted to deal with terrorism and security offences for the purpose of maintaining public order and security. This legislation was never intended nor meant to nullify parliamentary democracy or suppress political freedom. Indeed, section 4(3) of Sosma clearly provides -
(3) No person shall be arrested and detained under this section solely for his political belief or political activity.
The public demands to know what terrorist activity has been undertaken by Maria to warrant her detention under Sosma. Maria and her colleagues in Bersih 2.0 were responsible for organising the Bersih 5 public rally that was held on Saturday Nov 19 peacefully and without any untoward incident.
The organising committee of Bersih 5 took great pains to ensure that those participating in the rally would not break the law or be a public nuisance and to avoid any confrontation with the red-shirts group led by Jamal Md Yunos, who had threatened violence against Bersih 5 supporters.
The constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution; and the constitutional right to assemble peaceably and without arms is guaranteed by Article 10(1)(b) of the same. These rights are subject to the limited restrictions under Article 10(2)(a) and Article 10(2)(b).
Such a restriction was previously found in Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, whereby a licence from the police was required for any public assembly. However, Section 27 was repealed in 2012 by the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) which came into force on 23 April 2012.
In the light of this new law (PAA), since April 23, 2012 the requirement to obtain a licence from the police no longer exists. All that was required was for the organiser of the public assembly to notify the police at least 10 days before the intended public rally (section 9(1) of the PAA). In the case of Bersih 5, this legal requirement was duly complied with. This means that the Bersih 5 rally was a legal rally.
It is highly mystifying and a blatant abuse of Sosma for the government to detain Maria Chin Abdullah under this law. The government action is not merely high-handed but a travesty of justice of the highest order.
We have since learnt that Maria has been placed under solitary confinement in a windowless cell measuring 15 by 8 feet, with no bed, mattress or pillow and is forced to sleep on the hard cement floor.
It is unbelievable that our government could subject an innocent woman, who is a mother of three children, to such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; when all that she had wanted to do was merely to exercise her constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully without arms.
Malaysia prides itself as being a civilised country governed by the rule of law as well as by a written constitution that guarantees, among others, freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to assemble peacefully without arms. But, very sadly, the treatment of Maria by our authorities is reminiscent of authoritarian regimes and cruel dictatorships that oppress their own citizens.
We strongly demand for the immediate release of Maria and the return of Bersih 2.0’s files, documents, laptops and other devices which had been seized by the police.