Syed Akbar Ali


Detention Under ISA  

Hisham Abdullah wrote to the New Straits Times (December23 1994) that the Internal Security Act (Malaysia) should be retained.

Although some may argue the point, the use of ISA so far has not been wanton. We can pride ourselves that we are not like the Western or other Third World nations. Granted that there is genuine concern for our freedom, perhaps some of the resistance towards the ISA is a result of being beguiled by Western propaganda disguised as "yardsticks for human rights".

Human Rights While it may be difficult to prove that the ISA has been misused, it is simple to assume that the West does not use nefarious methods to oppress or suppress human rights. In the 1950s, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) covertly supplied information to Senator Joseph McCarthy who undertook a witch-hunt against suspected communists in the US Government. Much human right were trampled on.

In the 1960s, the FBI crusaded against human rights activists - bugging telephones, opening mail and harassing and manufacturing evidence against "suspects" have been documented by various human rights groups in the US.

Similarly, there is no dearth of criticism against British justice in Northern Ireland. And we must remember that the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was actually bombed and sunk in Auckland, New Zealand, by a Western agent.
All the nations of the world have laws. We have civil laws, criminal laws, corporate laws, laws of taxation, etc. Based on the assumption that the laws are quite comprehensive, we restrained ourselves to act only within the
parameters of these laws, which we ourselves have authored. But how do we deal with clever people or devious people who choose to act maliciously by circumventing the laws?

For example, we understand that a certain gang of gold thieves operates like terrorist cells. Gang members receive instructions and information secretly and commit thefts without the knowledge of other members. The "master minds", even if arrested may go scot free because due process of the law may never be able to tie them all together. This has happened in the United Kingdom where clever terrorist bombers were acquitted because smart lawyers skillfully argued around the existing laws.

Religious Sects The AI Arqam religious cult case, although nothing new, is an eye-opener. Skilful use of ideological fanaticism has enabled Arqam to manipulate people to organize themselves without paying much heed to the laws of the land.
Without the ISA, which law or statute can we call upon if a mere frown on the face of a "spiritual leader" actually causes his followers to act untowardly? How do we thwart people like the Reverend Jim Jones, the people who attacked the Batu Pahat police station and the people who attacked the Kerling temple?
  Arbitrary detention It is only arbitrary detention that we cannot condone - people disappearing without trace or justification.

But to date detention under the ISA has been well publicised. ISA detainees have their names published in the Press. For example, the public is informed that some Arqam members are still overseas. We are still aware that when they return, they will most likely be detained for
some time. There is nothing arbitrary or secret about this.

Ironically, people are sometimes arrested arbitrarily not under the ISA but by the ordinary policeman in the street. It does not happen everyday but during drug busts or crime sweeps, the police often arrest bystanders as well, only to release them later without even an apology. Indeed such action does violate human decency and dignity.

However, we have heard suggestions from our elected leaders that the ISA may be reviewed to reflect the contemporary security. With the maturing of the Malaysian people, a review may be feasible.

Perhaps, we can do away with the power to detain people being concentrated in the hands of only the Home Minister or his deputy.

'Within two months of becoming Prime Minister in 1 981, Dr Mahathir Mohammad authorised the release of many ISA detainees. Obviously, there is a lot of subjectivity between Dr Mahathir's understanding of "threat to the security of the nation" and that of the predecessors.

Danger Herein lies the danger because any laxity in subjectivity may place ISA detainees at the mercy of the Home Minister's constitution. This danger can be mitigated if the power to authorise detention under the ISA is made subject to a wider consensus.

As a suggestion, the power to authorise detention can be made subject to agreement of, say, the Home Minister and two other Ministers (possibly from different political parties). The main idea is that while we need not do away with the ISA, the power to authorise its use can be more proletarian.