Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Drastic changes to the ISA?

THE INTERNAL Security Act , the dreaded preventive detention law that was enacted after Malaya's independence from the British in 1957, is expected to see some drastic changes when it goes to the Dewan Rakyat later this month.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Monday the draft of the amendments to the Act is ready.

However, he added, it has to be submitted first to the Cabinet for it approval. The Cabinet meets Friday to scrutinise the amendments.

Hishammuddin hoped the bill could be tabled during the current parliament session but said that it is important that the public gets a chance to also give their views on the issue.

As the amendments go - hopefully - through its last lap, it has become clear that it will cover five pertinent areas: the length of detention, rights and treatment of detainees and their families, the power of the Home Minister, the use of ISA for political reasons and detention without trial.

Meeting key stakeholders

In revising the ISA, the government met with key stakeholders, including representatives from the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Bar Council, the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club, the National Council for Women's Organisations and the National Civics Bureau (Biro Tata Negara).

hishamuddin-hussein-isaEssentially, parties that had had discussions with Hishammuddin agreed that there should be a law in place to protect Malaysians against acts of terror and militancy.

Rights groups, however, criticise the ISA as a draconian violation of international human rights and a tool to stifle peaceful political dissent.

Some groups have dismissed any changes promised by the government as a prelude to early polls.

"To us amending the ISA is meaningless. The ISA cannot be repaired. It must be abolished," Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, who heads the Movement for the Repeal of the ISA (GMI) was quoted as saying by Harakahdaily.

He suggested that the Home Ministry should instead submit all ISA cases to a judicial review instead of a self-appointed advisory panel.

The ISA was a major issue in the March 2008 general elections which saw the Barisan Nasional's two-third majority in parliament sliced by the DAP-PKR-PAS electoral pact.

When he took office on April 3 last year, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said his administration would not use the ISA arbitrarily and would give importance to the principles of human rights and civil liberties.

In a belated move to pacify opponents of the Act, he ordered the release of 13 ISA detainees.

However, this only encouraged massive anti-ISA street marches that crippled businesses and caused huge traffic jams across Kuala Lumpur during the Ramadan fasting month in August.

Early this year, a Malaysian and nine foreigners suspected of having links with international terror networks were detained under the Act.

mahathir-1The ISA was notoriously used in 1987 by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his 'Ops Lalang' that nabbed over 100 politicians and activists for allegedly stirring racial hatred.

As an extension of the arrests and signalling a grave warning to the media that encouraged such hatred, the government banned three newspapers - The Star, Sin Chew Daily and Malay tabloid Watan.

The Malay paper has since ceased publication while the other two dailies were later given back their respective licences to publish their papers on the orders that they 'behave' themselves.

Critics call the Act antiquated, being the forerunner of Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948, which the Britished used primarily to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency.

A human rights issue

Then, as also now, a suspect may be detained by the police for up to 60 days without trial, beyond which preventive detention can then be renewed every two years. The government may reduce the remand to 30 days.

"It's has always been severely criticised, and not just by the Opposition. It's definitely a human rights issue. It has to be abolished," said political analyst Khoo Kay Peng.

Since the Act was introduced, thousands of people, including trade unionists, student leaders, labour activists, political activists, religious groups, academicians, and even journalists had been detained. The Kamunting prison in Taiping, Perak, has become a notorious icon of the ISA.,

Khoo said the country can do without the ISA as there are laws where people could be charged, with proof and evidence, in open trials.

"Detainees have no legal representation and could be held indefinitely without being charged.
"Our civil courts system is robust enough whereby detainees could be charged, with proof and evidence. There are enough acts and laws for open trials," said Khoo.

Senator S Ramakrishnan, in a statement on Tuesday, agrees that Malaysia has enough laws to protect people against criminals, robbers, terrorist, thieves, arsonist and instigators of racial tension. And none of these people are charged under the ISA.

He reckoned the ISA is used extensively to instill fear in the hearts of people and opposition politicians to comply and submit to the will and wish of ruling party.

He added: "Matters of national concern must not be suppressed with the use of the ISA but, instead, be moderated and steered to move forward and build a more cohesive Malaysian society." - Malaysian Mirror

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