Thursday, October 23, 2008

Syed Hamid says other countries envy our ISA

In an interview by The Star on October 22, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar (image) spoke about his stand on various current issues dominating the headlines in the past few months; including the infamous use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) on civilians. The controversial law drew many criticism from the general public and NGOs alike; particularly the detention of Raja Petra Kamarudin and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok . The true intentions of the ISA were indeed noble but Malaysians know they do not live in an ideal world; with it, the possibility of the preventative law to be abused by certain quarters.

The ISA allows the detention of individuals without trial for an initial period of 60 days until the government see fit for a release. The government may use the law on any person if he/she is deemed a threat to national security or public order.

Yet, Syed Hamid was as clueless as a chicken in the slaughterhouse when he was questioned about the ISA and its relevance in modern times. The following are "interesting" points raised by the Home Minister during the interview:

1. There is a need for ISA to maintain peace and order

"It is about ensuring law and order, peace and security, and comfort to the public. And we must ensure we are not guided by a need to be popular but by public interest ... "

"That’s how I look at all the things that we (the Home Ministry) do -- the bottom line is public interest, which is equal to maintaining public order, maintaining security and understanding perceptions and threats. If we are wrong, then the court can decide that we are wrong. But meanwhile, we cannot wait for things to happen in order for us to take action."
  • Is it not the public's interest to do away with the ISA which is oppressive and underminitive to freedom?
  • Also, how could the court decide whether the Home Ministry was wrong when the ISA itself allows detention without trial?

2. There are protective measures to prevent the abuse of the ISA

"The other part that people seldom discuss is that after three months from the time of the arrest, there is an advisory panel in which the Home Minister cannot be involved - to advise whether the person should continue to be detained. After that, every six months, it (the order) is subject to review -- to see whether the person’s detention should be continued or not."
  • Syed Hamid did not reveal who sits in the advisory panel to monitor arrests made by the Home Ministry.
  • Shouldn't the advisory panel consist of NGOs and independent lawyers for it to function as the ministry's watchdog?

3. Malaysia's ISA is the envy of law enforcement agencies from other countries

"When other law enforcement agencies come here, they say ‘you’re lucky to have the ISA.’ They say, ‘because of your ISA there are so many things that do not happen - the Bali bombing, extremist groups."

"But in Malaysia, we take all these for granted because everybody can go around (safely). When they (the public) are not happy, they condemn the enforcement officers, the police, Immigration, all sorts of things. This is the beauty of living in a peaceful democratic country - to be able to live comfortably. The government is sensitive to public comment, to protests, but it must be legitimate for us to respond to it."
  • Which countries were envious of the ISA, Syed Hamid? North Korea?
  • The government is employed by the people and not vice versa. Hence, when crime levels escalate, influx of illegal immigrant rises or corruption becomes more prevalent, is it not the public's right to question and scrutinize government agencies?

4. Public demand for something does not make it right

"People keep on changing their values. Do you remember at one time homosexuality in most countries was an offence. Now it is an accepted social norm -- some countries now have laws that allow for same-sex marriages. The values of society change with time. Somebody in the Opposition was saying, 'why don’t we make this homosexuality acceptable? After all people do it'. But the fact that people do it, does not make it right. The Muslims would never accept it and neither would the Christians. The majority of conventions would tell you it is not allowed."
  • Syed Hamid was trying to imply that despite the majority of Malaysians calling for the ISA to be abolished, it does not mean that such move is a wise and correct one.
  • The ISA was first drafted by the government to address the communist crisis decades ago. Yet, the Home Minister failed to understand that laws could become outdated and lose its relevance through time.

(You may read the full interview here.)

Opinions on the ISA may vary from person to person. However, the reality that the law is being abused to achieve political agendas cannot entirely be ignored. The debate on the relevance of the ISA today may go on forever but in any case, the freedom of Malaysians should firstly be upheld and restored.

For as long as there is no guarantee that the arrests under the ISA are transparent, properly monitored and backed with solid evidences, the ISA should all in all be abolished for its doors are forever open to possible abuse and the oppression of freedom and liberty.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Malaysia is lucky that most of the citizens from all the communities are law abiding and non violent, except for a few who think they are above the law.
    So other countries envy malaysia for being able to maintain the ISA without much problem because when they make such law in their own country, they will face a fierce backlash fron their citizens, with mass street demonstration that may even overthrow the government. So they envy malaysia very very much!

  2. Anonymous said...

    Obvious liar is obvious.

    Also, his press release should be stamped all over with "[citation needed]".

    The doublespeek coming from him is obvious too:
    "This is the beauty of living in a peaceful democratic country - to be able to live comfortably. The government is sensitive to public comment, to protests..."

    "But the fact that people do it, does not make it right..."
    Does that make it wrong?