Challenges from economic and other disparities and inequalities
IMPORTANT pre-emptive lessons may be learned from an analysis of the Arab Spring uprisings undertaken by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The study surmised that the main causes of the social revolution were spurred by a potent combination of economic, social and political grievances that created fertile grounds for dissent and united disparate groups in opposition to their autocratic systems. The protests, as a whole, were not ideological and did not seek to impose a particular set of beliefs or order. They united discontented citizens from across political, economic, class and religious divides in opposition to autocratic governments. The figures that united the protesters were ordinary people who had suffered at the hands of the authoritarian systems, such as Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, who, frustrated by police harassment and humiliation, set himself on fire in protest on Dec 17, 2010.
Chicago crime boss Al Capone (centre) and other underworld figures faced justice thanks to the Untouchables, led by Eliot Ness (inset), who relied on good, clean hardworking police work rather than restrictive laws.
The social and political causes included resentment of authoritarian rulers that denied freedom of expression and limited opportunities for participation in civil and political life, long-standing “emergency laws”, a malfunctioning or absent justice system, a repressive security state apparatus responsible for myriad human rights abuses, including torture and killings, a desire to re-assert individual and national pride. Furthermore, a feeling of a lack of dignity or an insult to their dignity spurred individual participation in the protests.
Social media was a pivotal platform for the expression of dissent and to organise and connect protest movements. Globalisation and ease of travel were also contributory factors. Frustrated young people became acutely aware of their relative deprivation and understood there existed alternatives to the repressive governments under which they lived.
Threats from organised criminal groups
The activities of organised criminal groups also pose a challenge to social order and national harmony, not least because most triads and gangs in Malaysia are today still racially constituted. Hence the crimes perpetrated or the areas these criminal groups control become identified with a particular race. Thus, their criminal activities do not just threaten social order but are also a potential sparking point for allegations of racially-based law enforcement actions or racially based victimisation.
This was aptly demonstrated during the 2013 crackdown on organised crime, where allegations were made that police operations targeted Indians, until the Inspector-General of Police produced statistics to show that the number of Malays detained during the operations was actually higher than Indians.
Allegations are always easily made. But the danger is when these allegations are made and opinions given without having all the facts.
On this aspect, perhaps the lessons of the violent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, could be instructive. In that case, there were two conflicting versions of the shooting of Michael Brown, and there was a clear racial gulf in how the events were perceived. Among the recommendations made were for the police to wear cameras, to work harder to improve relations with the communities they serve, and to have a police force that better represents the racial make-up of the community they serve. It was also recognised that the public are more likely to volunteer information to officers they trust. More importantly, it was recognised that rioting would not solve the problem, but on the contrary, would make businesses flee.
Another challenge relates to the confidence of the law enforcement agencies themselves to handle organised criminal groups and other serious crimes without the crutch of an emergency proclamation, extraordinary powers under emergency laws and the use of detention without trial.
In this regard, it should be understood that the guarantee in Clause (1) of Article 5 of the Federal Constitution that, “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law”, presupposes terms of imprisonment imposed by a court of law in accordance with due process. Preventive detention without trial is, and always will be, an extraordinary measure that must be expressly authorised under Article 149 or 150 of the Federal Constitution.
As amply demonstrated by the law enforcement agencies in the United States, Italy and many other countries, it is possible to take down large, violent organised criminal groups, such as the mafia, Cosa Nostra, etc., as well as terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, through diligent, dedicated, targeted investigations and prosecutions.
In 2012, Malaysians entered a new era through the realisation of watershed legislative reforms initiated by the honourable prime minister under the Political Transformation Programme (PTP) of the 2011-2020 National Transformation Policy (commonly known as the NTP). This led to the revocation of the long-standing proclamations of Emergency on June 21, 2012, and the lapsing of the laws made under its authority, such as the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969. The Internal Security Act 1960, the Restricted Residence Act 1933 and the Banishment Act 1959 were also repealed.
The Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 was promulgated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under Clause (2) of Article 150 of the Constitution and took effect on May 16, 1969, three days after the incidence of the racial riots on May 13, 1969. The preamble to the Ordinance explains the rationale for its enactment as “the existence of a grave emergency threatening the security of Malaysia” and that “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that immediate action is required for securing public order, the suppression of violence and the prevention of crimes involving violence”. We need to read provisions of law together with the justifications for those laws to properly understand why they were enacted and the purpose they are to serve.
Hence, it is clear that the Ordinance was promulgated at a time when Malaysia was facing a situation of grave emergency and extraordinary laws and immediate action were required to restore and secure public order, control and suppress the spread of violence, and prevent crimes involving violence.
Permit me to illustrate the scope of the problem which necessitated the extraordinary powers for law enforcement under the Ordinance.
According to official figures, in the space of three days, 196 persons lost their lives, 180 were wounded by firearms and 259 by other weapons. Further, according to the report by the National Operations Council 9,143 persons were arrested, of whom 5,561 were charged in court. In the process, 6,000 persons were rendered homeless, at least 211 vehicles were destroyed or damaged, while 753 buildings were damaged or destroyed by fire.
Aside from the civil disturbance, widespread looting was also reported. The police were so overstretched to keep law and order that even the police band had to be deployed on peacekeeping duties!
This, then, was why the Emergency Ordinance was promulgated at that time. Do we still have those conditions today? Would the laws enacted to deal with the problems of that particular period be relevant today?
In more recent times, Malaysia had to defend against an unthinkable attack from the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Sultanate of Sulu. In the aftermath of the Sulu force attack on Sabah in February last year, various security measures have been put in place, including declaring eastern Sabah a security zone.
Following multiple kidnappings in 2013-2014 by kidnap-for-ransom groups, and infiltration and incursions by suspected Sulu groups, curfews have recently been imposed in eastern Sabah under the Police Act 1967. Each order may only be made for a limited specified period. This is because this police power was intended to deal with urgent and temporary threats.
Each continuation of the curfew order should be made on a “needs basis” only. Therefore, the police are required to address their mind each and every time they seek to renew the curfew order, and not fall back onto old complacencies. Additional care in taking these security measures is required because it potentially targets those of Sulu descent and could give rise to allegations of racially-based law enforcement action.
It is noted that the spate of crime and terrorist attacks in Sabah, and detention of Islamic State (IS) terrorists have some quarters calling for “ISA-like” laws to be reintroduced.
Members of the public are also reacting on this issue. Suggestions have been made that rather than bringing back the ISA, the government should enact new security laws with elements that are missing in the current legislation such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.
The UK legal framework comprising the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Counter-terrorism Act 2008 are cited for further consideration as examples of effective laws which combat terrorism without any need to impose arbitrary detention without trial.
The efforts of Eliot Ness and his team of nine “Untouchables” (that is non-corruptible) officers in successfully dismantling Al Capone’s illegal breweries remains legend. The US Federal Government pursued Capone’s illegal activities in two areas: income tax evasion and violations of prohibition.
In a six-month operation, they gathered enough information through surveillance, anonymous tip-offs and wire-tapping to eventually allow the Internal Revenue Service to charge Capone with 22 counts of tax evasion and 5,000 violations of the Prohibition Act. Capone was eventually convicted on the five tax evasion charges on Oct 17, 1931, and sentenced to 11 years in prison and the charges under the Prohibition Act were dropped.
The perseverance of the Italian police also resulted in the arrest and conviction of the murderers of the anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, killed in revenge for their historic convictions of 119 Mafioso.
More significantly, police action turned public opinion and the state against organised crime. This led to the arrest of the “boss of bosses”, Salvatore Toto Riina. Today, the businesses in Sicily are determined to stop paying protection money and to take back their businesses from the mafia.
The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) was introduced to deal with terrorism and other security offences. It was used in Sabah after the attacks on Lahad Datu.
Therefore, there is nothing to say that we were not able to deal with the problems of terrorism, etc. in accordance with the existing laws.
Challenge from extremists and returning foreign fighters
At the 10th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) on Oct 29, 2014, the honourable Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed stated that, “The threat to world peace and security is not Islam but extremism in the form of intolerance, violence and militancy”.
But, the reality is that this is no longer just “the other country’s problem”.
In a letter to the editor, Ng Tze Shiung wrote that, “There is a growing tendency by Malaysians to label other Malaysians who do not share their views as extremists or advocates of extremism. This categorisation, however, falls apart because society is not secular and ideology does not predominate life.”
That is actually what is happening now and what people are concerned about. The fear of returning foreign fighters became a reality for Malaysia in November 2014. According to the Royal Malaysia Police at least five militants have returned. Three were arrested, while the whereabouts of the others are not known. Official numbers say there are 39 Malaysians involved in Syria. Local intelligence agencies are bracing for attempts by returning militants to spread their terror ideologies and provide training for would-be militants. Other sources claim 52 militants linked to terrorism have been arrested by police this year, many of them linked to IS.
The US State Department’s Center for Strategic Counter-terrorism Communications head, Alberto Fernandez, has also emphasised that the new war on terrorism is not being fought in Syria or Iraq but on social media. Recruitment is carried out in various ways to appeal to the sentiments of the subjects, each designed to make the IS cause attractive. Thus, it will be necessary for law enforcement agencies in Malaysia to issue appropriate “counter-messaging”, be it on Facebook or Twitter sites belonging to extremists. In this, as in so many other areas, law enforcement agencies alone cannot combat extremism. The political will of the governments (both federal and state) must be categorically declared. Since this is an ideological rather than a purely religious issue, civil society, young leaders, religious leaders and the private sector must also do their part to nullify this threat to social order and national harmony.
It is heartening to note that civil society and the public are leading the way through the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM). Realising the need for buy-in from our youth, the GMM has spearheaded the “Voices of Moderation” campaign which targets youths as the next step in driving moderation among Malaysians. TOMORROW: Part 7 — Challenges from politicians, religious and community leaders, and the mass media.