(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that there is enough evidence to detain the three Parti Keadilan Nasional leaders Mohd Ezam Mohd Noor, Tian Chua and Saari Sungib and reformasi activist Hishamuddin Rais under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for two years at the Kamunting Detention Centre in Taiping and that he signed the detention order as he was satisfied with the police report that the four posed a threat to national security and stability.
When introducing the Eighth Malaysia Plan in the Dewan Negara last Tuesday, Abdullah called for a policy of transparency to ensure the success of the government’s development plans.
Abdullah should realise that in the new era of transparency, it does not suffice for him to say that there is enough evidence to use the ISA to detain the four without showing them, and the onus is on Abdullah to immediately produce the relevant proof publicly to convince the Malaysian public that when he signed the ISA detention orders, he had the legitimate legal reasons to invoke the ISA against the four as distinct from political reasons.
In the new era of transparency, there are two things Abdullah must convince Malaysians that he had acted with fully responsibility when he exercised his fearsome powers as Home Minister in signing the ISA detention orders to deprive the four persons of the most precious right of any human being - the liberty of the person: firstly, that he had acted independently and fairly when deciding whether to order the detention of the four; and secondly, that there are enough evidence to justify their detention under the ISA.
With regard to the first test, Abdullah should demonstrate that he had not followed the previous “common practice” where the Home Minister automatically signs detention papers purely on the recommendation of the police, without really satisfying himself on the adequacy of evidence or the necessity of the detention - which were clearly unlawful detentions because they emanated from a gross dereliction of duty and abuse of Ministerial power.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, who was Deputy Home Minister from 1976-78, had described how previous Home Ministers had automatically signed ISA detention orders based purely on police recommendations without exercising their Ministerial responsibility to satisfy themselves on the adequacy of the evidence or the necessity of the detention in his classic study on the ISA in his book, Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia, where he wrote”
“It is common practice that the Minister of Home Affairs signs detention papers purely basing his findings on the briefs supplied by the police. There have been instances in the past when detention orders were signed by the Minister or his deputy just within hours before the expiration of the respective detention period. In its practical sense and in such a case, the Minister cannot be said to have used his subjective faculties to satisfy himself that the detention ought to have been made because he has not read the police reports in their entirety. It could therefore be said that when a man is sent to a detention camp the Minister is making a political decision about the rights and liberties of the subject solely upon the recommendation of the police.” (p.290/291)
Firstly, can Abdullah satisfy Malaysians that he had not made any political or preconceived decision, nor allowed any extraneous factor like the wishes of the Prime Minister’s to intrude into his judgement, and had fully and fairly studied the police reports against the four, including conducting independent assessment on the reliability and veracity of the police reports, before exercising his powers under Section 8 of the ISA to detain the four for two years?
Secondly, is Abdullah satisfied that there are enough evidence against the four, and if so, why is he so shy to present them publicly to convince Malaysians and the world that these are not further cases of arbitrary detentions and gross abuses of ISA powers?
In this connection, the comparatively early decision of the Home Minister to detain the four under the ISA (53rd day) is quite unusual, as from past practice, the formal detention comes in the last few days of the 60-day period, which is my experience in my two ISA detentions and the case with all the Operation Lalang detainees in 1987 who were formally detained and sent to Kamunting Detention Centre.
Is this because the Police are more efficient than before or is this motivated solely by the Federal Court hearing against the decision of Justice S Augustine Paul on April 25, 2001 dismissing the habeas corpus application by Mohd Ezam Mohd Nor, Tian Chua, Saari Sungib, Hishamuddin Rais and Raja Petra Kamaruddin and which is fixed for hearing tomorrow?
When the appeal against Justice Paul’s decision comes up before the Federal Court tomorrow, the whole basis of the cases and their challenge to the legality of their detention would have changed and disappeared, with Raja Petra released and the other four formally detained under the Minister’s order under Section 3 and no more by the Police under Section 73(1) of the ISA.
If this is the reason why the four were given their formal detention orders earlier than was the usual practice with previous ISA cases, then this would be an extraneous consideration making Abdullah’s decision unlawful - as whether the Federal Court had fixed its hearing of the appeal against Justice Paul Augustine’s rejection of the habeas corpus applications by the four tomorrow, June 6, should have no bearing on the Home Minister’s decision whether they should be formally detained under the ISA and despatched to Kamunting before the appeal hearing.
Parliament never intended or empowered the Home Minister to sign ISA detention orders to pre-empt a court hearing on habeas corpus application or its appeal, and for this reason, a full clarification from Abdullah on this matter is called for.