Suhakam inquiry into ISA arrests should be public and not a closed one so as to not establish  unhealthy precedent contrary to the fundamental principles of accountability and transparency

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): While the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) decision to launch an inquiry into the recent Internal Security Act detentions to ascertain whether the law had been misused by the authorities is to be welcomed, Suhakam should reconsider its decision that it be a closed and not a public inquiry as it will set an unhealthy precedent contrary to the fundamental principles of accountability and transparency.

Suhakam commissioner Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin has said that the inquiry  will be a closed one to accommodate witnesses who wish to remain anonymous and matters pertaining to national security would be kept confidential although the results of the inquiry would be made public.

That there are witnesses who might wish to remain anonymous and that there are matters pertaining national security are not excuses or reasons enough for Suhakam to conduct a closed inquiry - as there are many aspects of the inquiry which are not affected by these two considerations, such as how the ISA arrests were conducted, the detention during the first  60-day under police custody and the current condition in Kamunting detention centre.

The statement by the  Suhakam commissioner Mehrun Siraj  last month that Malaysia  has reached a stage where the people  need “hard cold facts” and that “the authorities cannot simply arrest people saying that they are a ‘threat to national security’ and expect people to accept  that” deserves fully endorsement, particularly by the Suhakam - and this must be reflected not only by Suhakam inquiries but also by the nature of the inquiries.

This is the strongest reason why the Suhakam inquiry into the ISA detentions should be a public one, except where witnesses wish to remain anonymous or where the government can convince it that national security is involved.

Although Section 14 (1) (e) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 gives powers to Suhakam to “admit or exclude the public from such inquiry or any part thereof”, these powers should be exercised sparingly or not at all.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman