48 years of ISA: Have you had enough?Posted: August 2, 2008
Just received this in my email. Yesterday marked the 48th anniversary of the ISA, as we know it, in Malaysia. Anniversaries are supposed to be happy occasions, but I’m thinking that yesterday was an exception.
Press Statement: 1st August 2008
48 Years of ISA: We have had enough!
1st August marks 48 years of existence of the draconian and infamous law called the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA has its origin in the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948, which served its purpose and was subsequently repealed when the Emergency ended on 30th July, 1960. However, the power of detention without trial under Regulation 17 was subsequently transformed into Part II of the ISA.
In 1989, ISA detainees’ recourse to the courts of law was further curtailed when we dutifully followed our southern neighbor in ousting judicial review in matters concerning the minister’s power to detain any person under ISA. With the amendment, detainees can now only challenge the detention on procedural grounds.
Abuse and torture under ISA
Under the ISA, detainees are subject to an initial 60-day detention period in special police holding centers, allegedly for the purpose of investigation. No judicial order is required for such detentions. The locations of these holding centers are kept secret, and detainees are transported to and fro in blindfolds. Visits by family members are purely discretionary and, contrary to Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution, detainees are denied access to lawyers. As a result, the ISA has morphed into a powerful instrument of fear and suppression.
There have been many reports of abuse and torture perpetrated on ISA detainees during their detention. Among them have been: continuous interrogation by Special Branch officers for long hours without any breaks; threat of indefinite detention if detainees fail to answer questions directed by the officers; detainees kept in a small dark room; being forced to drink their own urine etc. There have also been reports of the Police Special Branch (SB) officers hitting the detainees’ penis and inserting hard objects into their anuses. The physical abuse has often been accompanied by vulgar and obscene words.
In a recent case, Sanjeev Kumar Krishnan (25) is now confined to a wheelchair as he has become partially paralyzed as a result of torture while under ISA detention, having lost the function of his left leg and hand. In another case, when the daughter of a current detainee, Shahrial Sirin, was hospitalized in serious condition, authorities delayed permission for him to visit her; by the time he was finally brought to the hospital his daughter had already died.
The Use of ISA under Abdullah Badawi
Since Abdullah Badawi came to power in 2003, the ISA has continued to be used in the same way in the name of “national security”, on people ranging from persons allegedly spreading rumours through SMS, to political dissidents and alleged “terrorists.” In 2007, the government continued its tactic of creating a climate of fear through the use of the ISA, threatening to invoke it upon bloggers who allegedly wrote inflammatory statements and upon those who participated in street demonstrations. This was stepped up in the run-up to the 2008 general election, and has continued to this date to prop up the ruling party’s weakened hold to the power.
Based on GMI’s monitoring, as of 30th June 2008, there were 64 detainees in the Kamunting Detention Camp. Most of them are alleged members of “religious extremist groups” including the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), while another significant number comprises those allegedly involved in counterfeiting currency or falsifying documents, and also THE 5 Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) activists. To date, none of the detainees has been charged with any offence in an open court. More than half of them are into their second detention order and out of that number, 24 are serving their sixth years detention and seven of them namely Yazid bin Suffat, Suhaimi bin Mokhtar, Shahrial @ Syahrial bin Sirin , Abdullah bin Daud , Abdullah Minyak bin Silam , Mat Sah bin Mohd Satray and Shamsuddin bin Sulaiman are serving their seven year of detention.
We have a vast array of laws which provide an adequate legal frame-work to deal with threats against national security, counterfeiting currency or falsifying documents which do not by contravene universally accepted principles of justice and human rights. Why, therefore, is the ISA still needed?
GMI, in existence for more than seven years, has succeeded, through its many programmes, in raising public awareness about the injustice and cruelty of the ISA. It has also been able to put continuous pressure on the government by campaigning at home and abroad. As part of an intensive programme to campaign against the seventh year of detention of a number of current detainees, GMI has produced several publications and pamphlets which have been distributed throughout the country. A candle-light vigil was held outside the Kamunting detention camp on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the longest-standing detentions, and more recently a large public gathering was held in a stadium in Shah Alam.
Since the March 8 general election, with 82 Members Parliament and five states under its controls, the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) representatives have shown commitment to free the detainees and repeal the ISA. Several of State Governments concerned have also provided the much needed aid to the detainees’ families. GMI welcomes these commitment and measures taken by the Pakatan Rakyat governments.
GMI is encouraged by the growing public and international support for its campaign and resolves to continue with its work until its aims are achieved. In the following months, GMI will continue to focus on raising public awareness through exhibitions, petition on-line and signature campaigns. Specifically as one of the campaign against 48 years of the draconian ISA, a program open to public, called “Malam Seni ‘Tanpa Bicara'” will be held on the 2nd August 2008 in Bazar Melawati, Taman Melawati, Hulu Kelang, Selangor.
Finally, GMI once more urges the Government of Malaysia:
- To immediately and unconditionally release all persons presently detained without trial, or prosecute them in a public and fair trial.
- To immediately repeal all laws which allow for detention without trial, such as the ISA, Emergency Ordinance (EO) and Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA).
- To immediately close all detention camps where detainees are held without trial.
- To apologize to all detainees – past and present – held without trial, and provide compensation for their suffering, anguish and the injustice perpetrated upon them.
- To investigate all complaints and cases of victimization, torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, tyranny and abuse of power in relation to past and present ISA detentions, and to prosecute the perpetrators by establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry for the said purpose.
- To immediately debate SUHAKAM’s reports in Parliament and implement its recommendations to repeal ISA and other restricted laws.
- To commit to a monthly dialogue session on human rights issues with representatives of SUHAKAM, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, non-governmental organizations, human rights groups and the Bar Council.
- To recognize, respect and restore the inherent powers of the Judiciary as an independent check on the powers of the Executive and police, including repealing laws which have ousted the judicial review of Executive actions or decisions.
I have had enough.
The law is there to protect equality and justice. There can be no justice if the laws themselves are skewed. We cannot say we fully submit to the Rule of Law if the law itself brazenly overrides all sense of compassion. Human rights must walk hand in hand with the law. When the law totally disregards our basic rights, we must know and recognise that something is not right.
Knowing that something is wrong is always the first step. Are we even there yet?