79 detained in Sabah under Malaysia’s new security act

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 March) – At least 79  suspected members and supporters of  Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram in Sabah, Malaysia have been detained for investigation under the  Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012’ [SOSMA] as operations to flush out Kiram’s group entered its fourth day Friday.

On  Saturday, Malaysian media reported the killing of a “Sulu gunman” who allegedly attempted to slip through a tight security cordon at Kampung Tanjung Batu,   bringing to 61, according to Malaysian authorities, the number of dead since violence broke out on March 1:  eight Malaysian policemen and 53 allegedly from Kiram’s side.

The state-owned news agency, Bernama on Friday reported the detention of 79 persons “believed to be involved in the intrusion” in Lahad Datu.

The News Straits Times on the other hand reported police detained “over 50 people including women believed to be linked to the terrorists in Sabah.”

The report, datelined Lahad Datu, did not indicate how many women were detained.

It quoted Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar as saying the suspects “were picked up from all over Sabah and not just within the confines of the Sabah Security Area covering Kudat, Tawau,Kunak, Sandakan and here.”

Omar said the detainees “were believed to be collaborating with the terrorists and detained for investigation” under SOSMA.

Kiram, younger brother of the Taguig City-based Sultan Jamalul Kiram III,  sailed with some 200 men to Lahad Datu from Sulu and Tawi-tawi on the second week of February, purportedly to assert their claim over Sabah.  Kiram’s group holed up in Lahad Datu.

Kiram’s group was dubbed “terrorist” by  Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, on March 5, the day Malaysia launched aerial and ground attacks against them under “Ops Daulat.”

“The Sulu gunmen do not belong to any government, thus their actions are not considered as an invasion by a foreign country” and the action of the gunmen were “hostile acts of armed terrorists,”  The Star Online quoted Khalid as saying.

Bernama quoted Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib as saying on Friday that the 79  detainees were  arrested in in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu and Semporna and investigations are ongoing “and through them, we have had many successes in the ‘Ops Daulat’ offensive against the intruders.”

“Daulat”  in Bahasa Malaysia literally means  “Hail to the King” or “Long live the king.” Figuratively it means “upholding sovereignty.”

Invoking the need to “safeguard the dignity and sovereignty of the nation as demanded by the rakyat (people),” Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak  announced morning of  March 5 that  aerial and ground attacks had been launched to flush out the “intruders” from Lahad Datu.

Humane treatment

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Friday told Malacanang reporters that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had requested from the Malaysian government “that the Philippine team in Lahad Datu be given full access to our people under detention.”

“As we know, there are about 10 Filipinos under detention. DFA trusts that these Filipinos be given humane treatment,” he said.

As early as March 1, the DFA had asked Malaysia in a note verbale handed over to the Malaysian Ambassdor in Manila for a “full briefing” on the operations that were conducted by the Malaysian forces in Lahad Datu as well as “full access” to Kiram’s group in Lahad Datu, “to afford medical treatment to the wounded and to provide consular assistance to the rest of the group.”

The same appeal was reiterated by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario when he met with the Malaysian ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense  in Kuala Lumpur the early hours of March 5.

SOSMA. which repealed the controversial Internal Security Act of 1960, provides special powers  in dealing with security offenses in Malaysia, allowing a police officer to arrest without warrant and detain “any person whom he has reason to believe to be involved in security offence.”

The law provides for a detention period of 24 hours to a maximum of 28 days “for the purpose of investigation.”

All security offenses are to be tried by the High Court and are non-bailable although exceptions can be made for persons below 18 years old, a woman, or sick or infirm, subject to the attachment of electronic device on the person/

The law also states that a person may be released from detention “but an electronic monitoring device may be attached on the person.”

The law provides this illustration:  “D is arrested for a security offence. After twenty-four hours of detention , a Superintendent of Police extended his detention for another seven days. At the expiry of the seven-day period  D was released but he was still  needed to assist the investigation. Upon receipt of a report from the police officer, the Public Prosecutor may apply to the Court to attach an electronic  monitoring device on  D.  The Court may allow the electronic monitoring device to be attached to  D up to a period of twenty-one days..”

Before the detention of alleged members of Kiram’s group, only three had so far been arrested, under SOSMA , on February 7 this year, among them a former detainee for seven years under the ISA allegedly for inciting “terrorist attacks.”

“Charge them or release them”

In a statement, Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW)  acknowledged that the situation in the conflict zone in Sabah is “still quite murky” and expressed hope the government of Malaysia would provide clear and accurate information on what has occurred, ensure the protection of all civilians in the area, and allow humanitarian access for the provision of emergency

“ We’re concerned about the Malaysian government’s use of the Security Offenses Special Measures Act (SOSMA) to detain reportedly more than 50 individuals, and call on the government to either charge them with a recognizable criminal offense or release them.  All parties to the conflict should heed the call of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to ‘act in full respect of international human rights norms and standards’.

Robertson in an article posted on the HRW website in April last year, said that while SOSMA “has improvements (compared with ISA), the authorities still hold too much power to detain people on broad grounds, for too long, and without judicial oversight.”

The article noted that “permitting detention for 28 days without being brought before a judge violates international standards for prompt judicial review” and that allowing delay of 48 hours before the suspect has access to a lawyer “encourages abusive interrogations.”

On March 7, civil society organizations in  Malaysia  and the Philippines, in a Joint Statement, urged the Malaysian Prime Minister, President Benigno Aquino and Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III  to “immediately declare a humanitarian ceasefire”  to ensure the safety  of women, children, elderly and other vulnerable persons in the conflict-affected areas in Sabah.

The signatories from at least 100 CSOs in the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries, also asked for  “safe zones” where humanitarian organizations “can install facilities to be accessed by those who are injured and require immediate medical care.”

“Time is of the essence.  The world is looking at you, now,” the signatories led by  the human rights organization, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), the  Davao City-based Initiatives for International Dialogue and the Mindanao PeaceWeavers, said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)