Internal Security Act is a harsh law that has no place in a democratic society. P Ramakrishnan tells us why the ISA is evil and why it has to go – now.
It should never have been Raja Petra Kamarudin, Malaysia Today news portal editor, Tan Hoon Cheng, Sin Chew Daily News reporter and Teresa Kok, Member of Parliament and Selangor executive councilor, detained under the ISA. They didn’t pose any imminent danger to the security of this nation neither had they advocated the violent overthrow of the present government. They are just civilians – not terrorists out to create chaos and turmoil.
Their detention under this infamous ISA is indefensible, and unwarranted. It is no wonder that it has outraged a cross-section the people. In the past the condemnation and strong reactions to any detention under the ISA would have only come from the NGOs and the opposition. It is unprecedented that the outcry had also come from those aligned to the Barisan Nasional. For the first time so many leaders and ministers from the BN had criticised the use of the ISA against the three of them.
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Half a dozen cabinet ministers and about twenty leaders of the component parties have disagreed with the action taken against the three civilians. All of them have been very vocal and forthright in their views. This development is indeed extraordinary and unheard of in our entire history. Their displeasure and disagreement was articulated publicly – something that was not possible when the BN was riding high and mighty. In the hey-days of the BN no one would have dared to stand up and taken a decision that went contrary to the BN government.
Indeed a serving minister – an Umno man – felt so strongly that these civilians should not have been detained under the ISA that he resigned as a matter of principle. True to his words, in an interview in the Sunday Star on April 20, 2008 Senator Datuk Zaid Ibrahim decided that he would not become a “minister who has abandoned his principles.”
He was candid in his views for resigning from the cabinet over this controversy. “My view has always been that ISA should be used only on armed terrorists who want to topple the government by force. The ISA was created by the British to be used against the communists….
“The ISA is open to abuse. If we cannot be fair in implementing it, then we should confine its use to terrorists.”
Unlike Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Shahrir Samad who said it was necessary to retain the ISA in the country but that it should be used wisely, Zaid did not mince his words. For those who defended the use of the ISA, Zaid said it was a harsh law which did not offer the detainee a chance for trial.
“People who say the ISA is still relevant do not know what it is like to be detained without proof or trial. They have not gone through it personally.”
Zaid won a lot of admiration and respect for his courageous and principled stand.
Even the Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin had criticized the arrest of the three civilians under the ISA claiming that Islam did not need the ISA to defend the religion. According to him, the Quran or the hadis should have been used to investigate if a person was accused of insulting Islam.”
Why were they then detained? Is it possible that the BN made a blunder in resorting to the ISA without knowing the sentiments of the grassroots? Did Umno take its BN partners for granted out of habit thinking that they will remain docile and toe the line as in the past?
Did the detention on September 12, coming four days before the September 16 have anything to do with the deadline set by Anwar Ibrahim for the change in government? Was it done to divert the public attention from this much anticipated event?
Having packed off more than 40 MPs to Taiwan to prevent the much-talked-about take over of the government, did the BN feel safe enough that the take over would not take place. Is that why it had to flex its muscle and send out signals to Malaysians that the BN was in no mood to brook any idea of a take over of the government? Was it intended to convince Malaysians that it was still in control?
Whatever may be its reason, the BN action apparently backfired. This time around the people were not going to accept any silly reason for resorting to the use of the ISA. They were in no mood to be taken for a ride unlike in the past.
It was ridiculous for the Minster to say that the reporter was detained under the ISA for her own safety. The people were not convinced with his story. Why apply the ISA when the police could have provided protection without the use of the ISA? What more, he tried to explain that it was police action and that he had nothing to do with it. People wondered didn’t the police come under his ministry and could such action be taken without any reference to him?
Somehow, the threat to the reporter’s life mysteriously disappeared within 18 hours and she was released the following day. But nobody knows why she was taken to Ipoh the next day and brought back and released in the afternoon.
The reason for Teresa Kok’s detention was equally ludicrous. She was supposed to have asked the mosque authorities to tone down the volume for azam. Teresa denied this allegation. But the Utusan Malaysia did not bother to carry the denial, instead it played up the allegation to incite negative sentiments against her and raise religious tension in the country.
She was unfairly associated with the petition submitted to the mosque officials by the local residents. The Residents Association had clarified that she had nothing to do with the collection of signatures.
The Muslim non-governmental organization Jamaah Islah Malaysia said that the arrest of Teresa was an injustice as she had already denied this allegation first posted in the blog of the former MB of Selangor, Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo. Its deputy president Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh said in a statement that the mosque in Damansara – that was supposedly asked to reduce its volume for azan – had said that the prayers were not heard loudly due to malfunction of the speakers, not because non-Muslim residents had protested.
Even the mosque officials had come forward to state that Teresa had not stepped into the mosque. Wouldn’t it be elementary for the police to interview the mosque officials to determine whether the allegation was true before acting against Teresa?
In spite of the fact that the truth had been revealed as to what actually took place, yet Teresa was detained for a week based on a lie. The police have been totally discredited and the Home Minister became a laughing stock of the country.
Raja Petra’s detention was no better because no proof had been adduced to show his guilt. The police had claimed that he had insulted Islam through his articles but this was never substantiated. The police had not come out with any tangible evidence to justify their action for detaining him.
He had already been charged for sedition and defamation. Why couldn’t he have been tried and convicted if guilty and accordingly punished? Raja Petra had said that he would have his day in the court. Were they scared that he would produce damaging evidence that would destroy their credibility?
And to think that he was served with a two-year detention order on the day his habeas corpus was to be heard was difficult to understand. It was believed that Raja Petra had a good chance in setting aside his detention order and that was why the police and Minster wanted to act urgently to frustrate his efforts with a detention order. This was a shameful conduct. Normally, detainees are served with the two-year remand order close to the initial 60-day detention period. A long period was needed to carry out their investigation but in Raja Petra’s case the remand order was signed after 11 days of detention.
The police have not disclosed any incriminating evidence to show that Raja Petra posed a threat to the security of the country.
And yet he was remanded for two years without a just cause.
“Disallowing him the opportunity to defend himself is wrong,” the Mufti said in reference to the two-year detention of Raja Petra. He added that it was cruel to jail someone for two years without going through the judicial process.
From the traditions of the various faiths, the ISA is wrong. Any law that denies self-defence to an accused and robs him of the due judicial process is a law that has to be condemned and rejected.
As Edmund Burke observed, “Bad laws are the worst of tyranny.”
The Internal Security Act provides for the “preventive detention, the prevention of subversion, the suppression of organized violence against persons and property in specified areas of Malaysia…”
The ISA is intended for use when “action is threatened by a substantial body of persons both inside and outside of Malaysia
1 to cause, and to cause a substantial number of citizens to fear, organized violence against persons and property; and
2 to procure the alteration, otherwise than by a lawful means, of the lawful Government of Malaysia by law established…”
In other words the ISA was devised to counter a situation which was deemed to be “prejudicial to the security of Malaysia” as and when a threat was imminent to the elected government of the day that it was in real danger of being overthrown by organized violence.
This Act was drafted when there were communists insurgents bent on armed struggle. This is made clear in the preamble to the Act.
In an interview in the New Sunday Times of July 30, 2006, the man responsible for drafting the ISA, the late Professor R H Hickling, observed, “Organised violence is the key to this preamble, but a lot of people who had nothing to do with organized violence at all were being arrested.”
And when this Act was drawn up there was provision for judicial review. One could go to court to challenge the validity of the arrest but that provision is now no longer available to a detainee. The Minister’s decision ordering the detention of a person is final and not subject to question in any court of law.
This is what makes the ISA such a terrible law. When the ISA is used against people for whom it was not intended, it is unacceptable that nothing could be done to seek remedy for their unjust arrest. They cannot be denied their natural justice. It is an affront to our notion on justice. It is an insult to our civil society.
This absurd situation allows for the ISA to be abused with such impunity by the powers-that-be to silence its critics and harass its dissidents.
It is not a Justice System. It is just a system to take care of the opponents of the government.
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