Tuesday, September 16, 2008

No need for ISA

Detention without trial morally wrong

One of the laws that the Malaysians have opposed so aggressively over the last 20 years is the draconian Internal Security Act(ISA) that empowers the government to detain anyone for up to 2 years without trial on mere suspicion of being a threat to national security.Everytime someone is arrested under ISA there is uproar all over the country in protest.

The vehement protests not only comes from the Opposition parties, Non-governmental Organizations (NGO) and various human rights groups from within and outside the country but most significantly of late from the rakyat themselves, regardless of their race, religion and political ideology. Even the various religious leaders have condemned the ISA as being against the basic tenets of every faith.

We have come a long way, fighting the colonialists, the communist insurgency and Japanese occupation. At that time, there was no way of identifying the enemy and we needed a law like the ISA to detain someone on mere suspicion of subversion, to protect the nation and the people. Today we do not have such enemies of the state anymore as we are all loyal citizens of an independent and sovereign nation with its own laws and code of ethics in the form of the Federal Constitution and the Rukun Negara.

We have a legitimately elected government and an opposition, to represent the people in a duly established and respected parliament. We have an independent police force and judiciary to enforce and punish those guilty of subversion. We have sufficient laws to act against anyone who threatens the security of the nation, why do need to resort to arrest and punish someone without proving his guilt? Isn’t that a grievous breach of the basic human rights of an individual?

We are all aware that the ISA had been abused for political reasons by those in power. Not only politicians but professionals, members of NGOs, students, educationists and even religious and spiritual leaders have been detained under the ISA for questioning the injustices and abuses of the government and championing the rights of the people. Not only are they detained under deplorable living conditions but they are subjected to severe physical and mental torture like hard-core criminals.

The rakyat in general and various human rights groups in particular have voiced their opposition in no uncertain ways, forums, vigils, signature campaigns, petition and even demonstrations and street protests but to no avail. The government is adamant that the ISA is still necessary to maintain the peace and harmony among the races and reiterates that it will only use the law sparingly, a reassurance that is becoming less and less credible these days. More and more people are convinced that the draconian Act is being increasingly used to quell the swelling opposition to the government race based policies.

In a significant turn of events the recent detention of Opposition politician and Selangor State Exco member Teresa Kok, Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin and Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng have also been criticized by members of the BN itself, in particular Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who has even resigned in protest, a honorable gesture that is rare among our politicians these days.

These actions of members of the ruling party is unprecedented but is encouraging and goes to show the increasing maturity of our legislators who are willing to stand up in support of the aspirations of the people. It is time for more of our elected representatives from the ruling party to register their opposition to the ISA and demand its repeal. They must voice out against human rights violations, whenever and wherever they occur regardless of who perpetrates them.

Due to overwhelming public objection, the government has no choice but to reconsider the use of the ISA to detain civilians who pose no major threat to the security of the nation. In fact the government should seriously consider abolishing the ISA altogether as there are enough laws to deal with those who are out to create chaos in a multiracial and multi-religious society. What is important is to apply these laws promptly and fairly on anyone who breaches them. Ethnicity and political alignment should not be the factors that determine prosecution.

It is a false notion that the ISA is necessary for maintaining peace among the races. On the contrary its use not only fails to diffuse racial tension but its selective use, as is practiced, on those who oppose the government, only aggravates the already existing tense situation. Each time the nation recovers from a racial conflict and is on the brink of attaining peace, harmony and progress, the ISA is used which takes the nation back to the sixties. If this continues we will forever be the era of the sixties, with anxiety and fear of racial strive.

What is needed is a fair socio-economic policy for all races based on the fact that all citizens are equal and their rights stipulated in the constitution. Nobody should question or deny another of his rights. Greater and more genuine efforts must be made to promote inter-ethnic unity by emphasizing on the many common identities we have not divide on the few differences that separate us.These are the ideals that should be taught in all schools if we what a peaceful, harmonious and prosperous nation for our children and grandchildren.

Since March 8,the confidence of the people in the BN is declining by the day as their perception that it is recalcitrant to change is spreading fast. It must act fast and positively to regain the trust of the people. What the people need are reforms and change for the better not ISA arrests which are the least needed in the country plagued by political uncertainties.

The voice of the rakyat that transcends racial, religious and political divide is loud and clear – abolish the ISA. As a gesture to acknowledge its willingness to listen to the rakyat, the government should first release all ISA detainees and reassure the people that it will not resort to the draconian ISA in future for whatever reasons. It should work towards abolishing the ISA once and for all. Racial politics must be checked promptly and effectively with the existing laws of the country and not by resorting to the easy way out by detention without trial, which defies the basic human rights and the fundamentals of every major religion.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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