It is not just the ISA that must be repealed. All detention-without-trial laws and other repressive legislation must also go, asserts Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh.
The Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) will be abolished, said the Prime Minister in a special address on the eve of Malaysia Day.
Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI), which is made up of more than 80 organisations consisting of NGOs, political parties, human rights bodies, women, students, the Bar Council and workers’ unions, welcomes this new development.
GMI attributes the success (of the campaign) to:
- the awareness and demands of the people;
- efforts by victims and families of ISA detainees who continue to defend themselves;
- support from multiple NGOs domestically and internationally irrespective of race and religion, lawyer groups and political parties especially Pakatan Rakyat (PR) with their orange book commitment and a few motions to abolish the ISA, which was approved at the PR state level; and
- Suhakam’s consistent stand on the repeal of ISA.
After 10 years of GMI’s existence and campaigning, after tens of thousands of victims of ISA since 1960, after many families fell victims to the ISA, after several campaigns introduced with themes such as “Freedom for Reformasi Political Detainees”, “ISA Mala Fide”, “Free Malaysia From ISA”, “Save Malaysia, Abolish ISA!” and “Abolish ISA, Not Amend!”, for the first time, the people of Malaysia heard for themselves from the Prime Minister that ISA will be abolished. His statement immediately signalled the success of GMI’s campaign!
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Violation of basic rights
GMI also views this development as a very bold move on the part of Najib as the Prime Minister as no prime minister before him managed to do this. However, this serves also as evidence of the shackles and grip of the ISA on the people all this while. The PM regretted that Malaysia’s reality has changed. The people want a more open and dynamically democratic Malaysia, where opinions, idea and concerns of the masses are given more attention. This could not happen with the existence and excessive powers under the ISA. This is the message that has been carried by GMI and other bodies in its coalition for many years.
Additionally, the Prime Minister also attested to how the ISA was used against those with different political ideologies. He gave his commitment that no individuals would be detained just because of their political ideology. This clearly signalled that the detention of 10 Reformasi activists based on the allegation of unseating the government by means of explosives was a mistake and an abuse of the powers of ISA. The same goes for the detention of Teresa Kok or Raja Petra and a reporter a few years ago.
However, do remember that individuals should not also be detained for “political motives” like what happened to detainees alleged to have been involved with Jemaah Islamiah. They were made scapegoats of the international politics of Malaysia and the US. They were never proven to be involved with terrorism.
The Prime Minister and government also implicitly acknowledged finally the violation of freedom and basic rights besides the excessive powers of the police and Minister under the ISA. He gave his commitment to take into consideration freedom and basic rights in any law while any extension of detention can only be made by the court’s instruction (except for legislation related to terrorism).
Even then, GMI wishes to stress again its main principles against the ISA, which is on the provision of detention without trial and excessive arbitrary powers of the police and Minister of Home Affairs. GMI also wishes to stress its three main objectives, which are abolish the ISA, release the detainees and close down Kamunting Camp.
Therefore, GMI wishes to raise a few queries and concerns:
Will the repeal of the ISA eliminates all provisions in it in relations to detention without trial and arbitrary powers of the police and the Minister of Home Affairs? Or are the provisions transferred to the two new laws to be enacted? It seems that courts’ ruling is an exception for the new laws. Detention without trial is a thorn in the flesh and a disease. Without the scrutiny of the judiciary, the room for abuse is wide open. If (the provision for detention without trial is) transferred from the ISA to the new laws then radical change will not happen even if the ISA is abolished. The ISA has been the wand of power for the rulers. It will not be lifted that easily.
Why are the two new laws enacted with detention without trial provisions when there are existing laws for terrorist offences such as Chapter VIA of the Penal Code?
What is the time frame for the repeal of the ISA? If it takes up to two years as seen before, please do not fault the people for assuming the announcement as bait for the general election as well as for the political survival of the BN. The tabling of the motion to repeal the ISA must be made in the next parliamentary session.
Will the repeal of the ISA bring about the release of all detainees? The repeal should result in the release of all detainees without conditions and further ado.
What is the status of ex-ISA detainees who were deported while they are permanent residents? Are they permitted to return?
What will happen to Kamunting Camp? The Camp should be closed and be acknowledged as a World Heritage site much like Robben Island, South Africa as a symbol of the injustice and cruelty meted out under the ISA.
Implications and demands
The new development brings about several implications and demands:
- All victims of the ISA should be paid a gratuity as compensation for the torture and suffering experienced by the detainees and family members;
- All parties involved in the torture and maltreatment of ISA detainees must be brought to justice and open trials;
- The government, relevant Minister and police must be trustworthy in upholding the principles stressed by the Prime Minister in his address, and not just pay lip service. He stressed the government would put its trust in the wisdom of the people of Malaysia in making choices to pave the way for their own future direction;
- The government must abolish other detention without laws such as the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA);
- The government must review immediately within a specific time frame other laws that restrict the freedom of the people and media such as the Police Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act;
- The government must adhere to the international human rights charter over issues related to anti-terrorism activities and draft long term plans for the country in developing mechanisms to address terrorism without jeopardising basic rights and the principles of justice; and
- The government must sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);
Finally, it is evident that the existence of a strong principled voice/coalition/movement in a democratic system is very important to guarantee the welfare and livelihood of the people. GMI conveys its appreciation and admiration of the people’s voice. GMI’s position will be discussed among its coalition members at a suitable time.
Close down Kamunting Camp!
Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh is chairperson of the Abolish ISA Movement (GMI).