Did Abdullah sign off two-year ISA detention extension for reformasi activists or instructed the Deputy Home Minister to sign such an extension order before going off to “Down Under” for a 10-day holiday leave?
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): Today is Countdown Day 2 for the expiry of the two-year Ministerial order of detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for four reformasi activists - Tian Chua, Saari Sungib, Hishamuddin Rais and Mohamad Ezam Mohd Nor – and the question is whether the first three will walk out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men on Sunday or the four will continue to be victims of the draconian ISA for another two years. Mohamad Ezam is serving sentence in Kajang Prison after his conviction under the Official Secrets Act.
A similar decision awaits Lokman Noor Adam and Dr Badrulamin Bahron, whose ISA detention orders expire eleven days later on 12th June.
What is uppermost in everyone’s mind in the 10-day Countdown for Freedom for the ISA reformasi detainees is whether the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had signed a two-year ISA detention extension for the reformasi activists before going off “Down Under” for a 10-day holiday leave as he would be returning to his official duties only after the expiry of the current detention orders on Sunday or whether he had left specific instructions to his Deputy Home Minister to sign the two-year ISA extension orders on his behalf during his absence?
If it is neither, and Tian Chua, Saari Sungib and Hishamuddin Rais are to walk out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men after the loss of personal liberty for 782 days, why has Abdullah allowed the Home Ministry to be so ingrained and encrusted with the cult of secrecy which is totally at variance with the era of an information age with its much higher standards in accountability, transparency and good governance?
Similarly, if Abdullah has decided to extend the two-year Ministerial orders of ISA detention for the reformasi activists by another two years, why should it be done with such secrecy and mystery, totally against the tenets of fair play and the rules of natural justice disregarding the rights of the detainees to be heard before they are again deprived of their fundamental right to personal liberty through further detention without trial?
A prisoner knows at the end of his sentence after a one-third remission for good behaviour that he would be able to walk out of prison as a free person. But the reformasi activists do not know even 48 hours before the end of their two-year detention whether they will be walking out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men – which is patently cruel, unjust and offensive to the most elementary notions of the rule of law when ISA detainees are already treated even more unfairly than prisoners in being denied the one-third remission of sentence entitled by the latter.
Although the Home Minister is vested with the powers under Section (8)(7) of the ISA to extend the detention of an ISA detainee by another two years, whether (a) on the same original grounds; (b) on totally different grounds or (c) partly on the same grounds and partly on different grounds, he should in all the three circumstances respect the fundamental rights of the detainees concerned to be heard before any second Ministerial detention order is made.
The Amnesty International 2003 Annual Report released two days ago, started its chapter on Malaysia with the following indictment:
If the reformasi six are detained for another two years, the Amnesty International 2004 Annual Report is likely to lead off with their renewed detention as proof that Malaysia is completely unprepared to take the quantum leap to become a truly developed nation by demolishing the Malaysian malaise, “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality”, by giving more respect and regard for human rights as in the First World.
It is very sad and pathetic that in the rising crescendo of calls, both from inside the country and throughout the world, on the government to immediately and unconditionally release the reformasi six, there had been a total lack of concern of the important issue among Barisan Nasional Ministers, leaders and parties – as if they live in a different world of their own where their lives and thinking are completely untouched by questions of human rights and human dignity.
Isn’t it time for at least a few Barisan Nasional Ministers, leaders and parties to speak up for justice and human rights in the country, by calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the reformasi six? They should not be so lacking in human rights commitments that they even lag behind foreigners in their concern about the human rights situation in Malaysia.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman