The Emergency Ordinance came into focus recently when it was used to detain six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members. The Star spoke to the Law Minister, Police and NGOs about the pertinence of the EO, which provides for detention without trial and has been used a lot more than the ISA.

WHEN a mother asked her 19-year old twins, Vignesh and Vengadash, to run to the shop to buy some things, she never thought her boys would be detained by the police.

The boys went to the shop, inadvertently walked in on a police raid, and got scooped up too.

“These are good kids. They really are innocent but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” claims Suaram’s coordinator E. Nalini.


We don’t know when the police started using EO for petty crimes like motorcycle theft. Most of the EO cases I receive these days are for motorcyle thefts! — E. NALINI

The incident occurred in Petaling Jaya in 2006. The twins were detained under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO), which meant detention without trial.

They were moved from one police station to another and after the initial 60-day period, they were put in the Simpang Renggam Detention Centre.

The boys come from a poor family. Their father is sick so he doesn’t work and they live on their mother’s earnings from her job in a factory.

The mother did not know how to get her boys out so, after a year of worrying and asking around, the family turned to Suaram for help. The human rights NGO wrote letters to the Home Ministry, followed these up with a number of reminders and in 2008 (three months before their two-year detention order expired), the twins were released unconditionally.

“But they lost two years of their lives being detained for a crime they didn’t commit,” says Nalini.

Simpang Renggam was also a scary experience for the duo. They were bullied a lot by their cell mates because they didn’t want to mix around.

Recently, the police put the spotlight on the EO when they arrested six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members, including an MP, under the EO and held them for 28 days for allegedly attempting to revive communism before releasing and charging them.


The EO people are basically nobodies and are also too scared to come out (and challenge it) But the principle is the same; it is detention without trial. — EDMUND BON

Significantly, the “EO6” (as the six have come to be known) detentions were made two weeks before the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally for electoral reforms, which they were supporting.

Normally, the ISA is used for detention without trial.

But this is the first time that the EO, which is normally reserved for underworld kingpins, dangerous criminals and gangsters was used against politicians and political activists.

“The EO6 has opened many people’s eyes. Now people want to know more and more about the EO,” says Nalini, who finds herself explaining that “EO is ISA with a different name” because both bypass the judicial system.

Following the May 13, 1969 racial riots during which (according to official figures) 137 were killed, the King proclaimed a state of emergency and passed the EO which was meant to keep public order and security.

The country has come a long way since then but that proclamation of emergency has never been lifted, which means Malaysia is technically still under emergency. So the EO, a provision made under the Emergency, is still very much in use.

Nalini says Suaram only started paying attention to EO detentions from 2000, alleging that they found the police using it for petty crimes.

“Nobody realised this before so our records start only from 2000. We don’t really know when the police started using EO for petty crimes like motorcycle or car theft. Most of the EO cases I receive these days are for motorcycle thefts!”

She laments that statistics on the EO are difficult to get.

“I have written letters to the Home Ministry. I’ve called the Simpang Renggam centre asking for statistics but they have never responded. The only way we seem to be able to get some statistics is through questions in parliament.

“Even in the parliament answers, we don’t really get what we want. We asked how many people have been arrested under the EO over 60 days, how many in two years, and how many have had their detentions renewed after the two-year period. But there’s no answer.

“The only data given in parliament is from 2000 to 2009 (which say) that 3,701 people have been detained under the EO. But we don’t believe the figure because almost every year, the number of EO detainees is about 1,000. So how come they say it’s 3,000 in seven years?”

She argues that Suaram is not against taking criminals off the streets but this should be done in accordance with the law.

“Bring them to court, charge them and sentence them, otherwise release them,” she says.

Having dealt with EO cases for years, Nalini claims that the police are detaining people under the EO for KPI purposes to show their superiors that they are doing work by arresting “suspects” even though they might have no connection to the crime they are accused of.

Nalini says that from interviews she has done with former EO detainees, their allegations are all the same: they are taken to the police station, beaten, kicked and forced to confess.

She claims that when they go along with a confession, they are slapped with the two-year detention order instead.

Some “luckier” ones might get buang daerah (restricted residence) in which they are sent off to another district or state to live for a certain period of time.

No doubt this gives them more freedom compared to being in a detention centre because they are able to work, have access to phones, banks, shops and TV, and they are able to move around within the area.

But they have a “curfew” each night and must report to the police station every week. If they need to leave the area for a particular purpose, they have to seek permission from the district police.

Criticism of the EO is not new. Suhakam, the Bar Council and even the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police (2005) have all called for the EO to be repealed because they say it has outlived its purpose, violates personal liberties and has been abused by the police.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which spent some time in Malaysia a year ago, also urged for its repeal because they say it allows the police and AG’s office to elude the normal penal procedures for common crimes and offences.

The group says it is gravely concerned that thousands are being detained under the EO instead of being tried in court for crimes that fall within the purview of the country’s penal code.

Edmund Bon, a human rights lawyer who deals with EO cases, feels the EO is being used by the police as a shortcut.

He claims it is prevalently used on petty crimes and even on minors.

“We don’t even get to see the police report so we don’t know who the complainant is and the details of the complaint.

“When we ask for it, the police will only give us a piece of paper which says the person is suspected to have stolen cars, the date and time the cars were stolen.”

In Bon’s view, the EO allows the police to have a low standard of investigation.

“We can only improve the quality of police investigation if we remove this type of crutches,” he points out.

He stresses that the EO was meant for the 1969 racial riots, which has long ended, and questions why it is still being used today.

It can’t be that we need the EO because the police are not competent, he says.

“(By retaining the EO) They are actually saying that. But we are saying that because of the EO, the police are lousy!

“All the police need to do with the EO is get a police report, write the story, get some statements which cannot be scrutinised independently by a court or lawyer, give these to the Home Minister and expect him to sign the detention order for two years,” he says.

As regards detention without trial, the focus has been on the ISA rather than the EO.

Bon believes this is because the ISA has traditionally been used on politicians like during Ops Lalang (1987) and Reformasi (1998) so there has been a lot of public anger and pressure against it.

“The EO people are basically nobodies and are also too scared to come out (and challenge it).

“But the principle is the same; it is detention without trial,” says Bon.

He believes the police used the EO on the PSM six including Sg Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar because the ISA has become so controversial and the government has already announced plans to amend it.

But Bon is quick to stress that the EO is much more serious than the ISA because the number of people detained is far greater.

Earlier this year, to a question in Parliament, the de facto Law Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the government has no plan to repeal the 1969 emergency and EO because it is still needed for national security and in the event that it may be needed in the future.

Disagreeing, Bon says: “If the situation warrants it and there is no other option, then the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can proclaim a new EO stating its objective and specific period.

“You can have a 2011 EO but you shouldn’t be using the 1969 EO.”

The EO, he adds, is being retained as a “convenient tool” for law enforcement. “But you can’t use a hammer to kill a mosquito.”

This article was originally published by The Star on 11 September 2011. Click here to view original.

Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) is a non-profit based in Kuala Lumpur with the mission of promoting active democratic participation and human rights awareness.