Let Abdullah’s claim that ISA is not a political tool against legitimate dissent be tested by a comprehensive Suhakam Inquiry into the ISA detention of the reformasi six

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Ipoh,  Monday)In response to the European Parliament resolution last Thursday calling on Malaysia to  repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) as it was being used to crush political dissent, the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the ISA “is not an Act that is used to arrest members of opposition parties for their political activities, and therefore we have no plans to repeal it".  

Abdullah is trying to mislead Malaysia and the world as I can testify that in both my ISA detentions the first time for 17 months in 1969 and the second time for 18 months under the 1987 Operation Lalang swoop, I was detained not because I posed any threat to the national security but purely because of my legitimate political activities. 

I have no doubt that if a Royal Commission of Inquiry is held, there will be a long queue of former ISA detainees who are prepared to come forward to give testimony of their detention not because they constituted any threat to the national security but solely because of their legitimate political activities or  dissent  – including all the other five DAP MPs who were served with formal detention orders under Operation Lalang, namely Karpal Singh, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, Lim Guan Eng, V. David and Lau Dak Kee. (P. Patto, another DAP MP detained under Operation Lalang, has passed away).  

If Abdullah believes in what he said, that the ISA is not a political tool against the opposition and legitimate dissent, then let his claim be tested by a comprehensive Suhakam inquiry into the ISA detention of the six reformasi activists,  Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang,
Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam as to whether their detentions without trial constitute a fundamental violation of human rights and the latest use  of the ISA to crush political dissent.

Tomorrow, Suhakam will be starting its inquiry into ISA detainees in Kamunting Detention Centre which will be an  acid test whether Suhakam has retreated to a narrow restrictive interpretation of its powers or whether it stands firm and square on its statutory remit to protect and promote human rights.

The three-member Suhakam inquiry, to be headed by Suhakam Deputy Chairman Tan Sri Harun Hashim together with Prof Mohd Hamdan Adnan and Asiah Abu Samah, starts a  three-day hearing into the conditions of the six ISA reformasi activists currently detained at the Kamunting detention camp on

In my 80-minute meeting with the Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday, I expressed the general disappointment of the civil society at the narrowing of the scope of the Suhakam probe into the detention conditions of the six ISA reformasi activists when the  inquiry should deal with the central issue of the human rights violations  of their ISA detention.

Abu Talib held that Suhakam is bound by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 which defined "human rights" as referring to the fundamental liberties enshrined in Part II of the Federal Constitution, which allowed for preventive detention laws.

I pointed out Section 4(4) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999 which states that "For the purpose of this Act, regard shall be had to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the extent that it is not inconsistent with the Federal Constitution", maintaining that while preventive detention laws are provided for under the Constitution, it does not mean that Suhakam is prohibited from inquiring into the human rights violations of ISA or from discharging its overarching responsibility to promote and protect human rights in calling for the repeal of the ISA.

Otherwise, Suhakam would have acted ultra vires when it decided at an emergency meeting on April 11, 2001 that the ISA is a fundamental violation of human rights and called for the immediate release of the reformasi activists detained under the ISA, or they should be charged and tried publicly for any offences under the law.

Even the Suhakam statement of May 24 this year, compromising the earlier Suhakam stand calling for the immediate repeal of ISA by expressing the hope for its repeal "in the long term" as a direct result of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, would be ultra vires by such a narrow and restrictive interpretation of the powers and duties of Suhakam.

Abu Talib said the Harun Hashim Inquiry team was studying into all the legal aspects of this question, and I hope that the Suhakam inquiry tomorrow would not fail the acid test to stand firmly and squarely on its overarching responsibility to promote and protect human rights.

The lawyers for the reformasi six have said that the six ISA detainees have taken a stand to boycott the Harun Hashim inquiry if it is to be restricted  solely into their conditions at the Kamunting Detention Centre as it will not do justice to their human rights violations and will not be a bona fide investigation.

The boycott of the Harun Hashim inquiry by the ISA reformasi six if it is confined to their detention conditions in Kamunting will be most understandable, as such a restricted inquiry is a farce and a charade, plunging Suhakam to a new depth of crisis of confidence and credibility.

The case for the repeal of the ISA is overpowering in view of its massive abuse in the past four decades against legitimate political dissent, doing enormous damage to the civil and political rights of the people of Malaysia, apart from having long outlived its original purpose to deal with the communist armed uprising when it was enacted in 1960.

Although in the post-911 world,  terrorism had become both an international and national problem which must be addressed frontally, it must not be by way of the perpetuation  of the ISA, but through a specific anti-terrorism law.

All elements of the civil society must be involved in the fight against terrorism. It is not a fight to be conducted by the police and army alone. Instead, it must be fought at the political level, at the economic and social level, and at the level of ideas. But above all, it must be fought in a manner that respects human rights.

The ISA must be repealed while an  all-party conference, involving the civil society, should be convened to consider the need for a special anti-terrorism law to address the problem of terrorism, which should have effective safeguards to ensure that it would not be exploited or abused by the government to launch crackdowns on their political opponents or stifle legitimate dissent.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman