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Malaysia: Detention without trial -- Abolish the Internal Security Act 1960!

By Enalini Elumalai, general coordinator Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)

November 27, 2008 -- While Malaysia celebrated its 51st anniversary of Merdeka (independence) from Britain in 2008, the Malaysian government continued to arrest and detain individuals without charging them or putting them on trial under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA), the legacy of a colonial legislation enacted to combat the communist insurgency in Malaya in the 1940s and 1950s. 

The ISA was originally enacted to succeed emergency laws aimed at combating the communist insurgency in the 1940s and 1950s. It was also used against political dissidents, students and labour activists. Since then, the ISA has been used against those who commit acts deemed to be “prejudicial to the security of Malaysia” or threatening to the “maintenance of essential services” or “economic life”. The government determines which acts fall into these categories and, using a strained interpretation of the legislation, has detained scores of individuals under the ISA in cases that would normally require prosecution.

Under the ISA, detainees are subject to an initial 60-day detention period in special police holding centres, allegedly for the purpose of investigation. No judicial order is required for such detentions. The locations of these holding centres are kept secret, and detainees are transported to and from these centres in blindfolds. Visits by family members are purely discretionary and, contrary to Article 5(3) of the Malaysia's federal constitution, detainees are denied access to lawyers. During the initial detention period, detainees are commonly subject to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Abolish the Internal Security Act in Malaysia

At the end of the 60-day period, the Internal Security Ministry may release a detainee on restrictive orders, or order further detention without trial for a term of two years. The ministry can renew the two-year detentions indefinitely. Detainees may also be released with or without conditions at any time during detention. Conditions can include restrictions on activities, movement, residence and employment; orders to remain indoors during certain hours; and prohibitions against holding public office or taking part in political activities. Detainees who are issued two-year detention orders are held in the Kamunting Detention Camp (KDC) in Perak.

In recent years, the Malaysian government’s justification of detentions without trial has been highly contradictory. For example, it has criticised the United States government for detaining two Malaysians without trial in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2006, yet continues to invoke such legislation to detain persons without trial in Malaysia. The prime minister appeared to be unaware that indefinite detention without trial continues to be used extensively in Malaysia.

Abolish ISA Movement (AIM)

The AIM which is better known in Malaysia as Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) is a coalition consisting of 83 organisations made up of non-governmental organisations, political parties, human right bodies, labour unions, women and student movement. It was launched on April 30, 2001, when 10 human rights activists (reformist or reformasi) were detained on unproven charges. Abolish the Internal Security Act in Malaysia

The two main objectives of GMI are to work towards the abolishment of ISA and to demand for the release of all ISA detainees on the premise that no one should be detained without trial.

In order to achieve these objectives, the GMI has launched several campaigns to create public awareness through press statements, exhibitions, demonstrations, forums, intellectual discourses, signature campaigns, publishing of books, distribution of pamphlets etc. Other key elements employed for the publicity of the GMI campaign include lobbying at the national and international level, filing legal proceedings, establishing the Family Support Centre, communicating with the media, fundraising etc.

Since then the GMI has been successful with support from the public:

  1. All 10 reformasi activists have been released. The Federal Court made a landmark decision on the habeas corpus case filed by six reformasi activists on September 6, 2002. It declared that the detention of these activists was mala fide and illegal.

  2. SUHAKAM or Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Malaysia (Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission) has vehemently proposed for the review of the ISA and has appealed for it to be replaced with a law that will protect the rights of detainees.

  3. Abolish the Internal Security Act in MalaysiaAll Al-Maunah ISA detainees have been released.

  4. All KMM (Kumpulan Militan Malaysia, Malaysian Militant Group) ISA detainees have been released (last six were released on October 18, 2006, just less than a week before Eid ul Fitr -- Muslim religious holiday).

  5. Many of the JI (Jemaah Islamiyaah) ISA detainees have been released.

  6. Ex-ISA detainee Abdul Malek Hussin won a lawsuit against the government over his arrest and torture in 1998, and was awarded RM2.5 million in damages on October 18, 2007. High Court judge Mohd Hishamuddin Mohd Yunus ruled that Abdul Malek’s detention was unlawful and that he had been assaulted and tortured under custody. The judge in awarding exemplary damages to the plaintiff said that it was “to show the court’s abhorrence against the gross abuse of power by the police and the use of the ISA

  7. Release of Raja petra Kamaruddin, Teresa Kok, Tan Hoon Cheng and Cheng Lee Wei, Sanjeev Kumar and several other six-year detainees (2008)

At the time of this writing, around 64 ISA detainees, alleged to be JI militia members, and many more detainees are still suffering in Kamunting Detention Centre and they were also detained without trial there.

What you can do?

  1. Please write a protest letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia to condemn the arrest under the ISA and call for abolition of the ISA.

  2. You may also send postcards to the detainees in detention centre to show to them that we are with them.

  3. You may contact the secretariat of AIM to get involved or support any of their activities.

1. Send a model letter by post, fax or email to the Malaysian government

Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister’s Office Malaysia, Perdana Putra Building, Federal Government Administrative Centre, 62502 PUTRAJAYA, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: + 60 3 8888 6000 Fax: + 60 3 8888 3444 Email: e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
(With a copy to suaram@suaram.netThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Dear Mister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,

Re: Appeal for the immediate release of ISA detainee’s and call for abolishment of the ISA

I am writing to strongly urge you to immediately release of all the ISA detainees who have been detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

ISA detainees must be given recourse to a fair trial in conformity with international standards of due process and access to full legal representation and family members. If no evidence is found against a detainee, he/she should be released without delay, as holding them indefinitely merely on the basis of suspicion is a blatant violation of due process. I am also quite concerned about the fact that the ISA detainees have been physically abused and harassed in the past and are being forced to live in small cells and under strict regimes. I ask that you ensure that all the ISA detainees are treated according to the international human rights standards.

Human rights organizations and NGOs should be given immediate and full access to the Kamunting Detention Centre. Most importantly, I strongly urge you to abolish the ISA under which many such innocent people have been held in the past and are still being currently detained without charge, or legal representation, merely on the basis of suspicion.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter,

Yours sincerely,
[Name, Date]

2. Address for material to be sent to ISA detainees in Kamunting Detention Camp

You can write letters of support to ISA detainees at the address below:

Tempat Tahanan Perlindungan
34009 Taiping
Perak Darul Ridzuan

List of ISA detainees in Kamunting (PDF)

3. Secretariat of AIM

Miss Nalini,
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
S/o Abolish ISA Movement
433 A, 1st Floor, Jalan 5/46, Gasing Indah,
46000, Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia.

Tel: +6 03 77843525
Fax: +6 03 77843526


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