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While major issues like the coronavirus understandably grabs a lot of attention, an issue of no less importance, one that challenges the very notion of Malaysia as a democratic nation has been allowed to play out without the outrage that it rightly deserves: the continued detention of 12 Malaysians on charges of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), a once formidable but now defunct Sri Lankan terrorist organization.

Arrested under the draconian 2012 Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act or SOSMA, the twelve including two DAP state assemblymen have now been in detention for more than 120 days while awaiting trial.

SOSMA is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted by Parliament. Under its harsh terms, suspects can be detained for up to 28 days without trial and be denied legal representation or bail. In a previous ruling, a judge had held that SOSMA was unconstitutional and that judges can consider bail applications even if an accused person is charged with a terrorism-related offence.

However, the twelve continue to languish in prison because the Home Ministry insists that the LTTE remains a terrorist organization and a threat to national security. It appears likely that the twelve will remain incarcerated for months to come.

Whichever way you look at it, it is nothing but a farce, a travesty of justice that dishonours the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s oft-repeated pledge to uphold the law, act justly and respect the rights of all Malaysians.

It is simply mind-boggling that anyone, leave alone a well-informed security agency, would consider the LTTE an operational terrorist organization that still poses a threat to the peace and security of this nation or any other nation for that matter.

The LTTE is dead. It cannot be plainer than that. Its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed in the final bloody 2009 battle between Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE.  Its leadership has been completely decimated and its infrastructure dismantled. It cannot be any ‘deader’ than that, a fact that even the international community has long recognized.

The LTTE now belongs in the history books not on the Home Ministry’s list of proscribed terrorist organizations.

Of course, there’s tremendous sympathy for Sri Lanka’s long-suffering Tamil population. They suffered horribly during the long civil war which claimed more than 80,000 lives and are still struggling to rebuild their communities.

The Malaysian Tamil community along with others in the Tamil diaspora are doing what they can to help them in much the same way as Malaysian Muslims offer sympathy and support to the Rohingya or the Palestinians. There’s nothing sinister or suspicious about such support.

Indeed, the former BN administration also channelled assistance through the Malaysian Tamil Forum to help the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

To allege, as Bukit Aman now does, that some of these connections and events going back a few years now are suddenly part of a sinister attempt to support or revive a terrorist organization, that it is a threat to our own national security, is absurd.

What is worse is that the police chose to arrest the twelve under SOSMA which immediately puts them at a disadvantage in terms of defending themselves. It also deprives them of their freedom while they await their day in court. The Act even allows for their detention until the government’s entire appeals process is exhausted. Anyone arrested under SOSMA can, therefore, expect a lengthy stay in prison. It’s unfair. It’s unjust. It’s immoral.

Malaysians will no doubt remember that SOSMA was considered so repugnant that all Pakatan Harapan parties were unanimous in their decision to abolish it, along with other pieces of anti-democratic legislation, if they took power. That Malaysians are still being detained under SOSMA more than a year and a half after PH took power is both an outrage and a betrayal of the people’s trust.

As well, the very fact that SOSMA is being used in a case like this is proof enough that neither the government nor the police should ever be given the kind of powers that SOSMA confers on them.

The whole LTTE episode has, no doubt, left many Malaysians wondering what the real story behind these arrests is. Criminalizing links to a long-dead organization under an odious piece of anti-democratic legislation simply invites suspicion and speculation that perhaps other factors are at play.

Is the government trying to distract attention from its many failures? Are they trying to appease right-wing groups who have been clamouring for tougher action against DAP leaders who have been highly critical of Zakir Naik, the fugitive Indian Muslim preacher? It may be none of these things but the way the whole case is being handled has certainly raised eyebrows and angered a great many Malaysians.

It doesn’t help, too, that the LTTE arrests come at a time when the police force is itself implicated in the enforced disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat and is now caught up in the controversy surrounding its failure to locate and return Indira Gandhi’s daughter to her mother as per the decision of the highest court in the land.

Whatever it is, this travesty of justice has gone on long enough. Malaysian citizens including elected representatives are being deprived of their freedom on spurious grounds. The rest of us should send a clear message to the PH government that enough is enough. Repeal SOSMA now and if there are genuine concerns that the twelve pose a threat to national security, the courts should hear their case expeditiously. No Malaysian deserves to be deprived of their freedom in such a callous manner.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |10th February 2020]