Suhakam should break its silence in the ten-day Countdown for Freedom for ISA reformasi detainees to add its voice for their unconditional release or this will be a major blot on its record to protect and promote human rights
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Today is Countdown Day 3 for four reformasi activists detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) - Tian Chua, Saari Sungib, Hishamuddin Rais and Mohamad Ezam Mohd Nor – whether the first three walk out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men on Sunday on June 1 or the four will continue to be victims of the draconian ISA for another two years. A similar decision awaits Lokman Noor Adam and Dr Badrulamin Bahron, whose ISA detention orders expire eleven days later on 12th June.
Conspicuously silent in the ten-day Countdown for Freedom for the ISA reformasi detainees is the body which had been established by Parliament with the specific responsibility to protect and promote human rights – Suhakam!
Suhakam should break its silence in the Countdown for Freedom for ISA reformasi detainees and add its voice to national and international calls for their unconditional release or this will be a major blot on its record to protect and promote human rights.
When the reformasi activists were first detained in April 2001, Suhakam promptly issued a statement after a special meeting on 11th April 2001 which deplored the arrests as “Detention without trial constitutes a fundamental human rights violation” and called on the authorities to immediately release them or to charge and try them in open court if they had committed any offence.
When the Federal Court in an unanimous decision last September ruled that the police detention of the reformasi activists under ISA was “mala fide” and was therefore illegal and null and void, although the ISA reformasi activists continued under detention because of the “fiction” that they were then detained under the Minister’s order under Section 8 and no more under police order under Section 73 of the ISA, Suhakam issued a statement which called on the Home Minister to review the detention of the reformasi activists in view of the Federal Court decision declaring the police detention as unlawful.
The second Suhakam statement was a disappointment, as it should have reiterated its original call in April 2001, using the Federal Court judgment as an added reason, and endorsing the judgment of Salleh Abbas LP in Theresa Lim Chin Chin & Ors v Inspector General of Police (1988) on the “inextricable connection” between Section 8 and Section 73 powers of detention, as “there is only one preventive detention” and the police power of arrest and detention under section 73 could not be separated from the ministerial power to issue an order of detention under section 8.
Is Suhakam backing down from its categorical and unequivocal stand in April 2001 that the reformasi ISA detainees should be released immediately and unconditionally, to the extent that it is not prepared to join in the national and international calls in the 10-day Countdown for Freedom of the reformasi detainees?
I find it most regrettable that my query two days ago as to whether a decision had been taken on the fate of the reformasi activists had been made before the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi went on a 10-day holiday leave “down under”, and if not, who would be taking the decision as Abdullah would not be back to resume his duties until after the expiry of the two-year detention order of four reformasi activists on Sunday.
There can be no reason for any secrecy or mystery on the government’s decision on the reformasi ISA detainees - whether they would be restored their freedom, released with conditions or further detained for another two years – and DAP calls on the government to be frank, truthful and transparent on the matter which vitally affects the status of human rights in Malaysia, which was again the subject of adverse comments in the latest Amnesty International 2003 Annual Report released yesterday.
Whether the reformasi activists are restored their freedom on Sunday will be a test as to whether Malaysia is ready to address the Malaysian malaise, “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” which Abdullah had brilliantly diagnosed as the root cause hampering efforts to lift Malaysia from a third world nation to first world status.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman