THE Emergency Ordinance (EO), a preventive law that allows the police and Home Affairs Ministry to detain an individual for two years (which can be renewed after two years) without trial and place them in detention centres (similar to prisons) in our country, was repealed in the middle of 2012.
The Prime Minister stated then that the Government was ready to make changes in the law in accordance with the current needs of contemporary society.
This landmark decision by the Government was a victory for the champions of human rights.
However, for the research team on crime and policing from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), we knew that the country was going to see a significant surge in violent crimes, especially those involving gangs and recidivists (repeat offenders), based on our fairly extensive research on this subject.
In 2010, our team recommended that the Restricted Residence (RR) Act be repealed as it was obsolete in our high-tech communication-savvy modern Malaysian society. But we recommended that the EO be sustained with amendments to prevent any abuse.
The EO is a preventive law that was originally developed to deal with subversive elements that threatened national security and specific criminal elements that threatened the safety of society.
Although the EO has been criticised as a draconian, inhumane and undemocratic law, it cannot be denied that it served its purpose in effectively dealing with terrorists, secret societies, criminal gangs, recidivists and organised/syndicated crime members.
Most of the detainees under the EO in the last three decades were those alleged to be involved in violent gang activities, extortion, kidnapping, gaming, and in executing the day-to-day operations for organised/syndicated crime bosses.
Almost 2,000 of these undesirable criminal elements were released after the repeal of the EO last year.
Since then, according to police officials as reported in the media, most of them are back in business.
However, they are now more daring and dangerous and commit crimes openly.
These criminals are also openly displaying their gang identities/symbols during funeral processions, community activities and even at religious events. They fear no one, including the police.
We, the research team on crime and policing from USM, would like to ask all law-abiding and peace-loving citizens of Malaysia to what extent they are willing to give up safety for the sake of liberty and democracy.
We have a track record of being a rather safe nation but if we do not equip our authorities with the right tools to operate effectively in dealing with the various types of criminal elements in society, we will not win the battle, nor the war against crime.
We should consider having a similar preventive law like the EO, but with a stringent check-and-balance system to prevent abuse.
We must, however, bear in mind that there are many crimes where the offenders can be charged under existing criminal laws.