Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Internal Security Act (ISA)

The 48-year-old highly controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) currently at issue which entangles and emerges as the hottest topic being discussed in the Malaysian society. The key question is whether the political crisis will be solved and nation security, peace and harmony not being jeopardise once the law is being enforced.

Political parties and NGOs urged but Gerakan Wanita issued a strong call for Bukit Bendera Umno division Chief Ahmad Ismail to be sacked and detained under the ISA for his racist rants. On the other hand, business as usual, a number of civil society groups have opposed the use of it which claimed that it will only legitimize the draconian act which has long been condemned by the civil society and opposition parties as it is contrary to fundamental human rights.

Ironically, the political price of the racist statements are too great and the national interest should be our country’s top priority.

Interestingly, although the United States and the United Kingdom claimed to be the most democratic countries but they had similar legislation.

Internal Security Act is a preventive detention law, at the discretion of the Home Minister, without charge or trial of any person in respect of whom the Home Minister was satisfied that such detention was necessary to prevent him or her from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security or to the maintenance of essential services or to the economic life in Malaysia.

Under the ISA, a person may be detained by the police for up to 60 days without trial for an act which "prejudices the security" of the country. After 60 days, the detention can be extended for a period of two years, with the approval of the Minister of Home Affairs. It can then be renewed for successive two-year periods. A detainee can thus expect to remain in detention indefinitely.

During the first 60 days of detention, detainees are allowed no family visits and no access to legal counsel. If a further two-year detention is approved, they are taken to the infamous Kamunting Detention Centre, where they are held in isolation in small, poorly ventilated cells.

It was first introduced by British colonial Malaya in 1948 to combat the armed insurgency of the then Malayan Communist Party.

Following the proclamation of an emergency then, the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 was made by the British High Commissioner Sir Edward Gent which allowed the detention of persons for any period not exceeding one year.

The 1948 ordinance was primarily made to counter acts of violence and, conceivably, preventive detention was meant to be temporary in application. The Regulations allowed the police to arrest without evidence or warrant anybody suspected of having acted or being likely to act in a way that would threaten security, hold them incommunicado for investigation, and detain them indefinitely without the detainee ever being charged with a crime or tried in a court of law.

In 1960, three years after Malaysia’s independence, the Emergency was declared over. However, a new Internal Security Act under Article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution was passed in its place with much the same powers. On its separation from Malaysia in 1963, Singapore also retained the ISA.

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