True democracy cannot mature with ISA around

From Ashvin Raj (Malaysiakini)

I read with much scepticism of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Zaid Ibrahim’s recent statement that he finds the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Official Secrets Act (OSA) unacceptable. He was quoted as saying that he is against any unjust and harsh laws which and this includes the ISA and OSA.

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However, this was contradicted by the Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar who said that such laws will not be abolished, as they are needed for the purpose of maintaining public order. In such a scenario between two conflicting statements, what would be the public stand of the prime minister?

Would he seek to abolish such oppressive laws in the newly-convened Parliament in agreement with his own minister in his department? Or would he seek not to, in the interest of the home minister’s recent remarks?

I would certainly not be surprised if Pak Lah remains defiant in not wanting to abolish the ISA and OSA, as it has served to protect BN’s interests for the past 51 years after Merdeka. After all, he was the one who authorised the detention of the Hindraf activists and accused them on baseless grounds of being a threat to national security.

The opposition and the vast majority of the general public have long seen the ISA to be a notoriously oppressive law. In the name of national security, the ISA has been used as a convenient political tool that allows for indefinite detention without trial. The ISA is an obnoxious piece of legislation that has no place in a democracy.

Former detainees have published horrifying accounts of their detention under the ISA when they have been subjected to solitary confinement without access to family members, lawyers and friends. Police interrogators have routinely subjected ISA detainees to physical and mental torture in order to ‘turn them over’.

All this amounts to human rights abuse and a barbaric treatment of individuals who have never been tried, let alone convicted, in an open court. These acts of injustices are an obscene affront to human dignity and a mockery of democracy. They violate the teachings of all religions in our nation, because it has demeaned human life.

The ISA is an unjust law, where its so-called legal practices represent a crime against humanity. As always, the ‘threat to national security’ has been a flimsy catch-all excuse for not charging and trying so-called suspects in open courts.

How do you expect the continued existence of the ISA to foster a reformed democratic society when this oppressive law looms as an ever-present threat over the lives and liberty of ordinary Malaysian citizens? True democracy cannot mature when people are being threatened with detention without trial.

The basic principle of natural justice is that the accused must be given the right to be heard must be unconditionally upheld. I therefore sincerely hope that Zaid Ibrahim and Pakatan Rakyat will pressure the federal government in Parliament to immediately charge and try all ISA detainees in an open court or release all ISA detainees still incarcerated.

Otherwise, there will not be any true judicial reform as pledged by the prime minister – through the appointment of Zaid Ibrahim to be in charge of legal affairs – and it will only remain a mere rhetoric.

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