(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Since the announcement by the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in May 1995 that the National Security Council was carrying out a review of the Internal Security Act (ISA), followed by repeated statements by the Deputy Home Ministers about pending amendments to the Internal Security Act, public expectations have been high that there would be major changes to a piece of legislation which had done more than any other law to mar and stain Malaysia’s international reputation as a mature and functioning democracy.
Malaysians want substantive and meaningful amendments to the Internal Security Act, and not inconsequential or farcical tinkering with the law.
It would appear that Malaysians are going to be disappointed, if what the outgoing Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Megat Junid Megat Ayub, revealed yesterday reflects the full extent of the amendments that would be made to the ISA.
Megat told reporters after opening a meeting of the working group of the Asian Crime Prevention Foundation that detention under the proposed amendments to the ISA would be flexible, which can be as short as six months or longer than the existing two years.
Under the present provisions, ISA detainees are held up to a maximum of two years under a detention order. The amendments would empower the Home Minister to detain a person under the ISA for more than two years in cases of serious offences, while allowing the Minister to release a detainee in six months if he feels that the detainee has successfully undergone rehabilitation.
In actual fact, there is already flexibility as far the detention period is concerned under the existing Internal Security Act. Although a person is detained for a period of two years under the ISA, the Minister could release him any time before the expiry of the two-year period or extend his detention for another two years indefinitely.
The most classic example is Operation Lallang exactly ten years ago in October 1987 when 106 persons were detained in the mass arrests, out of which 40 Opposition political leaders including MPs, trade unionists, Chinese educationists and social activists were formally served with two-year detention orders.
However, all the 40 detainees were released before the expiry of the two-year detention order signed by the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed at the end of December 1987, with the first batch of seven releases on 3rd June 1988 (i.e. after five-month detention) while the last two of the detainees to be released, namely DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng and myself, were released in April 1989.
Amendments to the ISA to make the detention duration flexibile is therefore inconsequential and farcical as they are already provided for under the existing law.
The two issues which must be addressed in any serious review of the Internal Security Act are firstly, whether such a undemocratic piece of legislation should remain on the statute books; and secondly, how to prevent the detention-without-trial laws from being abused to serve sectional or petty political party interests, as could be borne out by a long list of examples.
I call on the Government to throw open the review of the ISA to the people to involve public consultation to consider whether Malaysia still needs such a draconian law.
The Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, had been on record in the days when he led ABIM calling for the repeal of the Internal Security Act. Has he changed his mind, and if so, what are the factors that have contributed to his change of mind?