MARCH 24 — Many people were unhappy about the time when a few years back Teresa Kok, Raja Petra Kamaruddin and that female reporter (I fail to remember her name!) were detained under the Internal Security Act.
Rallies were organized, and people congregated in front of police stations demanding their release.
Even though the reporter was released 24 hours after being detained (which baffled even me) and the sassy MP was released a few days later, people nonetheless weren’t happy about it.Perception was that the government was using this law to enforce their will upon people and for this the Internal Security Act must be abolished.
Politicians and activists argued that no human being should be held in jail in absence of a trial.
How can there be a law in which the government can simply put people in jail without a valid reason? Candlelight vigils were held in the streets and parks, while some shouted slogans.
Others read poetry; a few sang songs about justice, equality and human rights. For a moment people felt like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and perhaps Bob Dylan. They were there for a good cause, a noble cause which was to abolish the law that is so unjust, inhumane and wrong. So the whole campaign went on full force, with politicians donning the “Mansuhkan ISA” badge on their shirts, party vests and caps.
However long after the release of the people mentioned above, another soul was detained under the ISA and his name was Mat Selamat.
Unlike the last time around there were no candlelight vigils for him, no rallies nor was there any poetry or songs serenaded in the name of injustice that had fallen upon this man.
So what if he was not a politician or an activist, so what if he was a suspected terrorist, note the word “suspected” meaning he should be given a right to defend himself just like any other human being. But what was most peculiar, this time around the vehement call to abolish the ISA was suddenly silent.
Gone were the activists, the poets, singers and politicians. I don’t see vigils for Mat Selamat.
A general feeling
I think generally, Malaysians, the silent majority at least agrees with the ISA when used in a certain aspect. Take the example of Mat Selamat, apart from pointing out the hypocrisy in certain politicians and groups; the reason that question was raised (in regards to the absence of vigils) is to point out the lack of public anger or outcry.
The thing is not many would want to light candles for him because the public feels that indeed he should be in there, for the sake of security.
I think that Malaysians generally do understand that security is an issue and there is a need for pre-emptive measures. Nonetheless if it is misused or perceived to have an ulterior motive, only then the public disagrees.
I think the majority of Malaysians don’t really want to abolish the ISA. I think they prefer a change in the act.
Anti-terrorism law versus ISA
Some quarters are calling for an anti-terrorism law to replace the ISA. Before we go on further perhaps it is wise to first understand the definition of terrorism.
Terrorism is a form of tactic; it is to describe the use of fear and intimidation onto civilians as a way to send a certain message; blackmailing or pressuring a government into conceding.
People argue that since there is a need for pre-emptive action the ISA should be replaced with an anti-terrorism act, instead of detaining anyone who the police feel is a threat; this new law would only detain terrorists.
Suicide bombings or ramming an airplane into a building, though an act of terrorism, is not the definitive definition of terrorism. Rather, as mentioned before, it is actually one of the tactics used to instill fear and those who commit it is a terrorist.
However do consider this: say a politician or a religious figure who preaches to his followers hateful and insidious things that in turn inspire them to commit acts of terror, isn’t he too is a security threat, is he too not a terrorist?
Which is why Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyyah, though not convicted of any crime or act of terrorism, was detained. This is because to the Indonesian government, Abu Bakar Bashir though old and does not hold the knowledge of bomb making, is even more dangerous than Dulmatin or our very own Dr Azhari.
Dr Azhari may have been a bomber, but he was a lone warrior, while on the other hand this cleric has the ability to inspire ten other young men to follow the footsteps of Dr Azhari.
So to simply narrow down the definition of terrorist as the people who bomb or commit acts of terror is not sufficient.
By this definition the logic is that anyone who is perceived to be a threat or perceived to be able to commit, inspire, sponsor or support in any activity that may lead an act of terrorism can still be held under custody.
In which, it is the exact same thing as ISA but under a different name, so to me it doesn’t really make sense.
Amendment not abolishment
It is interesting to note that Raja Petra Kamaruddin was released from the ISA after a court order was obtained, Habeas Corpus. Now for the argument that the ISA is an archaic law that detains people without trial, or a law in which the enforcement can use at their own whim, is not entirely true.
There is a legal route in which a detainee can be released from ISA. Whether it goes far enough that is to be debated.
The thing is, though I support the Internal Security Act, even I agree that the detention of those mentioned earlier on don’t make much sense.
Indeed it is a law that has its purposes and had served us in terms of ensuring security in this nation; alas it is not a perfect one.
It was after all designed to combat communism, times have changed and though we still do face the threat of terrorism, this nation is no longer in an emergency.
Thus instead of taking a drastic and unwise move of abolishing it (or replacing it with another name) it would be much wiser for us to re-examine some of the angles in the ISA.
Perhaps there should be a cap or a maximum amount of years in which a person can be detained. If the government can’t seem to build a case to persecute the person after so many years, he/she should be released.
Or perhaps rather than a two year review of detention it should be done annually so that more chances are given for the detainee to fight for his/her case. Maybe we should re-examine the process of habeas corpus, that one can take the fight to the courts of appeal, to me it is these sorts of things that needs to be amended or reviewed, I am for the amendment to be tabled in parliament and debated.
The fact is that the security and stability that we have today was not achieved by burning candles by the street or renditions of poetry highlighting universal love. It took dedication, vigilance and hard work in preventive measures and enforcements to achieve it.
The same vigilance we had in which forced Dr Azhari and Noordin Mat Top to flee as their network and support group were dismantled before they could commit their terror acts in this nation.
Sure some may point out that it is easy for me to say so when it is not my family who is being detained under the ISA. Indeed the emotional grief and challenges a family face when a loved one is detained is daunting.
However, judgement must not be made based on emotions, but rather based on what
is best for the nation. Indeed it may sound cold and heartless but the fact is reality is harsh and like it or not we have to take actions and measures.
I am not for the abolishment of ISA; I think there are valid reasons for it to be there and a purpose for it to serve. I however am supportive of amendments to the act to ensure it is not to be misused, for it to be fairer and more effective.