The Law Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA) has expressed serious concern about a recent series of arrests carried out in Malaysia under the auspices of the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA).
The arrests of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, MP Teresa Kok and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng were made under the ISA, which allows for detention without trial.
Tan Hoon Cheng was released within 24 hours of her arrest, parliamentarian Terasa Kok after 7 days, but blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin has been remanded for a further two years.
A statement issued by LAWASIA on 17 September called for the immediate release of the remaining prisoner:
“LAWASIA adheres to the basic principle that no one should be detained without trial for an indefinite period and that anyone detained should have the right to legal representation and to a fair trial — failing which the person should be released. The bypassing of the judicial process and arbitrary detention are clear violations of the rule of law.”
President of LAWASIA and former president of the Malaysian Bar Association, Mah Weng Kwai, has been a long time opponent of the ISA.
“During my watch [at the Malaysia Bar Association] we were calling for the abolishment [of the ISA], and now as president of LAWASIA I have also been giving out the call to the Malaysian Bar and the civil societies calling for the abolishment,” Mah said.
“I don’t think this will happen in the very near future, but I think that civil society is getting definitely more aware of what ISA is all about, and there is a really loud voice calling for its abolishment.”
Mah estimated that as many as 65 people have been arrested under the ISA to date, and re-emphasised the arbitrary nature of its operation. “The [crucial] thing about the ISA is that it allows detention without trial, which means only a ministerial order from the Home Minister is needed,” Mah explained.
“The frightening thing is it is renewable, so after two years it can be renewed for another two years and the detainee never gets his day in court.
“There are cases of people who have been in detention for more than six years currently.”
He said the government’s justification for the arrest of Tan Hoon Cheng was a classic example of its approach to the ISA.“When queried [about the journalist’s arrest] the Home Minister said she was arrested ‘for her own safety’. So yes, that speaks for itself [about] the kind of mentality that is going on,” he said.
The best hope of a change of policy comes from the opposition party rather than acquiescence from the current government, Mah said.
“The role played by the opposition is very important, because the opposition is being led by the former Deputy Prime Minister [Anwar Ibrahim] and he has been calling for the abolishment as well, so there is now quite a sizeable number of people and organisations being quite vocal about this.”
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