LTTE crackdown and rule of law under ‘New Malaysia’

Do Malaysians still remember how the prime minister has repeatedly stressed that “New Malaysia” is strictly based on the rule of law?

This is apart from the Pakatan Harapan manifesto that promised to do away with detention without trial laws such as Sosma, Poca and Pota.

Recent police action is disturbing as it is in direct contradiction to both assertions. The Malaysian police have arrested seven men including two assemblymen under the Security Offences (Special measures) Act, or Sosma, for allegedly “supporting, promoting, recruiting, funding and being in possession of items related to Sri Lanka based militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).”

The Melaka state assemblyman and his Negeri Sembilan counterpart were detained for allegedly “supporting the ideology of LTTE, which had been classified as a terrorist group in Malaysia since 2014…”

Dr Mahathir Mohamad also said that he is satisfied with the explanation given by police on the crackdown. “The police have briefed me. They (the police) have reasons to take action.”

Before the last general election, Mahathir claimed that he was not responsible for Operation Lalang in 1987 but that it was the inspector-general of police (IGP) who had initiated the operation. Was he also satisfied with the explanation given by the IGP then?

It must be pointed out that all laws that allow for detention without trial such as Sosma and the previous ISA go against the rule of law. They violate the principles of natural justice and human rights.

The use of detention without trial raises massive doubts about the basis for the allegations, and it merely highlights the lack of evidence in incarcerating these victims.

The police have claimed that between 2001 and 2012, they have arrested 284 of Jemaah Islamiyah militant members; 512 IS members since 2013 and; 25 LTTE members since 2009.

Certainly, a terrorist in any society is a security risk if he or she carries arms and explosives or supports violence against the society of which they are members.

Thus, although IS and LTTE are similarly categorised as “terrorist groups” by the Malaysian government, it would be foolish not to differentiate them according to whether they are potential threats to Malaysian security.

Showing sympathy not a crime

But when is it a crime for Malaysians or anyone else in the world to show sympathy for liberation struggles such as the LTTE or the Palestinians or the Rohingyas and others?

For years, Malaysians have supported the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and this has been backed up by the government’s official stands.

The PLO has been very focused on their opposition to Israeli/Zionist aggression. I don’t remember any case of Malaysians being arrested for allegedly “supporting, promoting, recruiting, funding and being in possession of items related to the Palestine Liberation Organisation”.

Likewise, LTTE has very specific objectives, namely, to secure an independent state of Tamil Eelam in the north and east of Sri Lanka in response to the state discriminatory policies of successive Sri Lankan governments towards Tamils.

It would be naïve for anyone not to know that LTTE has sympathisers in our country, especially among the Malaysian Tamil community.

During the 1930s when Japan had invaded China and committed untold atrocities, Malaysian Chinese supported anti-Japanese activities in China including sending funds to the resistance.

Likewise, during the Spanish Civil War in the Thirties, the anti-fascist resistance had sympathisers that included George Orwell and other intellectuals from all over the world who were incensed about Mussolini’s fascists. In more recent times, the Irish Republican Army’s campaign against the British rule in the North of Ireland also had sympathisers and funders among politicians and big business personalities in the Irish American community.

Double standards

Now, IS is a different kettle of fish because unlike LTTE, their objective of a caliphate through their world-wide terrorist activities using flexible, geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells means that they do not have a specific country as their ultimate target.

Nevertheless, in 2018, Merdeka Center in their survey found that support for global and regional terror groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah was highest in Malaysia at 18.1%. Support for IS was also highest in Malaysia.

At the same time, the government is reported to welcome its citizens who left the country to join the IS in Syria even while other countries are trying to disown their own by stripping them of citizenship.

According to an Al Jazeera report, in which Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the head of Counter-Terrorism for Special Branch, was quoted, Malaysians who made the mistake of joining the IS may return provided they comply with enforcement checks and complete a one-month government-sanctioned rehabilitation programme.

Furthermore, while the head of the Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division plans to use clerics and psychologists to evaluate these former IS fighters’ ideology and psychological make-up, he added that they do not plan on detaining every single returnee.

We are told that while more than 100 Malaysians had joined IS, there are currently 51 Malaysians still in Syria, including 17 children, who according to Ayob himself, are still willing to fight for the global terror network’s dying cause.

To date, 11 other former Malaysian members are already back in Malaysia. Of these 11, the eight men were charged in court and convicted. Two were children, aged three and five, and there is one woman who has undergone a rehabilitation programme and has now returned to her kampung.

On March 10, then-IGP Fuzi Harun said police had uncovered a plan by foreign militants to use Malaysia as a “safe haven”, following the collapse of IS. “We view seriously the infiltration of foreign terrorist fighters in the country due to the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

“These foreign terrorist fighters could also set up base here to attack another country, or by even launching attacks in Malaysia,” Fuzi said, adding that the militants plan to marry local women to get spousal visas to enable them to live in Malaysia or to remain in the country by using education facilities, or by being involved in business.

War on terror and the rule of law

In 1994, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, set out in its resolution 49/60, stated that terrorism includes “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes” and that such acts “are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

Nevertheless, respect for human rights and the rule of law remains the bedrock of the global fight against terrorism. This requires the development of national counter-terrorism strategies that seek to prevent acts of terrorism, prosecute those responsible for such criminal acts, and promote and protect human rights and the rule of law.

It implies measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including the lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, and socio-economic marginalisation.

Most importantly, with all such allegations, there must be due process and the right to a fair trial for individuals suspected of terrorist activity.

The human rights protections for all persons charged with criminal offences, including terrorism-related crimes, include the right to be presumed innocent, the right to a hearing with due guarantees and within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, and the right to have a conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher tribunal satisfying the same standards.

The government should immediately release Malaysians who have been detained without trial under Sosma for alleged links to LTTE. The prime minister should be reminded of his post-GE14 commitment to the rule of law and to abide by the PH GE14 manifesto promise to do away with detention without trial laws such as Sosma, Poca, and Pota.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser to Suaram.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.