posted by Din Merican (October 3, 2008)
As a young boy, I used to read ‘2000AD’. Through this I came to know of Judge Dredd and how he and his fellow police officers were ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’. And even though the guns, motorbikes, violence and women in leather were really my focus, an understanding of why the rules had to be suspended in that comic-strip world did filter through. The situation was extreme; these enforcers were the last bastions against a world of total chaos. They were the law because the situation demanded it.
The justifications the Government offers for its continued use of the ISA are strikingly similar. We have been told, in one form or the other, that those detained are threats to national security. We are urged to understand that there are compelling reasons that make it a matter of critical importance that they be detained without trial. Were they left free to work their schemes through to completion, it is said, the nation would be in grave danger.
As much as the current Home Affairs Minister may think he is Judge Dredd (tread with caution, the image of the Minister in leather, zips and boots is not for the faint hearted), he should perhaps appreciate more fully that Malaysia is not facing the kind of apocalyptic prospect that the ISA was designed for. The extreme gravity and urgency warranting summary detentions is conspicuously absent. We are a nation at peace; armed insurrections are a thing of a distant past. We would not be plunged into chaos, democracy destroyed, if we stopped to smell the roses, or try those detained in court for that matter.
Circumstances are such that we are left with little choice but to doubt the legitimacy of detentions under the ISA.
How are we to believe that those detained were in fact the serious threats they were supposed to have been when so many of them had gone on to serve the Government in one way or the other? Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was detained in 1974 and kept in detention for some twenty months. He went on to serve the nation as Education Minister, Finance Minister and, ultimately Deputy Prime Minister. Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, our current Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation was also detained for some two months in 1991. They are just two of numerous instances.
How are we not to doubt the bona fides of detentions when the ISA was amended in 1989 to put the Minister’s decision to detain beyond the reach of the law. How else is one to characterize restricting the scope of review to merely matters of procedure? Scrutinizing detention orders to see whether the Minister dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s while he thumbs his nose at you from behind his legislative barricade is not a process that inspires confidence.
How are we to trust in the sincerity of explanations when though our current Prime Minister declared in 1987 that, “Laws such as the Internal Security Act have no place in modern Malaysia. It is a draconian and barbaric law.” he did an about face in 2003, saying instead, “We have never misused the Internal Security Act. All those detained under the Internal Security Act are proven threats to society”. The irreconcilable positions reveal just how far politics rules the day. That a significant number of those detained through the years have stood in the way of the Government’s political interests only goes to reinforce this impression.
Sadly though, what I have said here is not novel. Many before me have expressed the same sentiment, their pleas having fallen on ears deafened by other priorities it would seem. This has been aided in part by the way in which the issue has consistently been permitted to slip back to the periphery after the initial flurry of excitement and expressions of disbelief that mark the then most recent round of detentions. The issue lies there, in its dark corner, forgotten like those who have been detained; out of sight, out mind.
In allowing for this we have given comfort to the Government, indicating to it that as much as we may have disagreed, it is not a matter of great importance to us. We are as much to blame as those who put the detainees away.
Eid is a time for reflection and introspection; it is a time for resolve. This year as we celebrate and give thanks, perhaps we could pause to remind ourselves how fortunate we are for not having been forgotten, for being able to reach out to touch those who matter to us. Perhaps we could take a moment to see that we are really all that those who slowly fade away under the ISA have.
Let us remember them and the injustice that they have been made to suffer, let us not let others forget.
(Malik Imtiaz Sarwar is counsel to Raja Petra Kamarudin who was detained under the ISA on 12.09.2008. He is also the President of the National Human Rights Society and blogs as ‘Disquiet’ at http://www.malikimtiaz.blogspot.com)
(Malay Mail; 30th September 2008)