When the Honourable Prime Minister took office in April 2009 and announced a comprehensive review of the Internal Security Act 1960 (“ISA”), the immediate response was one of incredulity. The ISA is a piece of legislation that has been with us in one form or another since even before Merdeka. The British declared a state of Emergency in 1948 to address the concerted threat from communist terrorists. When the Emergency was pronounced over in 1960, three years after Merdeka, legislation by way of the ISA was nonetheless put in place to act as a means of dealing with the ongoing security threat from communist terrorists. In spite of the many campaigns calling on the Government to abolish the ISA, we have become used to its continued existence for the past 52 years.
The Honourable Prime Minister’s announcement — in his eve of Malaysia Day speech on 15 September 2011 — that he would abolish the ISA was thus a bold and imaginative move. It was designed no doubt to signal a real and forward-looking commitment to transformation, and a tangible move away from the usual method of conducting the affairs of government.
Now that the Honourable Prime Minister has kept his promise and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 has been passed, we stand at the eve of the actual abolition of the ISA, which will occur when SOSMA comes into force. Notwithstanding the Malaysian Bar’s concerns over the lack of safeguards in certain provisions of the new legislation, this is an unprecedented moment. Lest the momentum be lost, we must continue to look ahead at what more needs to be done to transform our nation. In order to do so, we must truly free ourselves from the negative legacy of past laws.
It is in this light that the Malaysian Bar calls on the Honourable Prime Minister to intervene and revoke the detention orders on the 45 individuals who will remain incarcerated under the ISA until their respective detention orders expire. The Government should either charge or release the 20 Malaysians and 25 foreign nationals still being detained. Some of the detainees have recently begun a hunger strike, while it has been disclosed that the foreign nationals have not had any contact with their diplomatic missions in Malaysia. In order to prevent any untoward incidents, and so as to fully end the existence of the ISA, they should either be charged in court or set free, and if necessary, sent back to their respective countries.
We also call on the Honourable Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to support the Minister in charge of Law and Parliamentary Affairs in relation to the situation of refugees in Malaysia, and on the issue of ending the use of the mandatory death sentence for drug offences.
During a briefing on the situation of refugees in Malaysia on World Refugee Day on 20 June 2012 at Parliament House, the Honourable Minister agreed with the Bar Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that giving refugees access to lawful employment opportunities and officially-recognised employment was one way to ensure better safety and security for them, and to prevent their exploitation and abuse. The Honourable Minister had also, in an earlier roundtable discussion at Parliament House held on 14 October 2011, agreed to support a cross-party initiative to end the use of the mandatory death penalty for drugs-related offences. There is great wisdom in leaving the decision on punishment for drugs-related offences to the discretion of the Judiciary.
The views expressed by the Honourable Minister are far-reaching and progressive. Taking immediate positive action on these three measures would go a long way in enhancing the rule of law in Malaysia and firming Malaysia’s international standing. Given that the Honourable Prime Minister has made it the hallmark of his leadership to progressively transform the nation, we call upon him to embrace these further initiatives so as to expedite the pace of change.
Lim Chee Wee
30 June 2012