Repeal of the ISA: Reform should be sincere and not selective

SUARAM is cautiously optimistic on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recently announced reforms to detention without trial laws; specifically the proposed repeal of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA); along with the lifting of the Emergency Declarations and presumably the Emergency Ordinance along with it. Other laws that he said would be re-examined included the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Banishment Act and the Police Act.
The Prime Minister has made a public statement to push for these reforms because “Malaysia aspires to the ranks of ‘developed nations”’. Many may remember similar promise of reforms, although of a lesser scale were made by him in 2009, and by his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004. And many remember still the subsequent u-turns as the government succumbed to right wing and conservative elements in the country.
A vague reference was made to shifting detention powers from the Executive to the Judiciary, but the Judiciary’s independence has been suspect for a number of years. After all, this is a Judiciary that has repeatedly shirked its responsibility in Constitutional matters, especially matters of religious conversions and child custody in mixed marriages as well as the recent case on native customary land.
The promise of two new acts to replace the ISA in “preventing subversive activities, organised terrorism and crime to maintain peace and public order” is also cause for concern. What will these two new acts look like? We have no idea. Najib Razak points to two nations, the United States and the United Kingdom, who have enacted preventive detention laws to combat terrorism, glossing over the fact that these laws are themselves subject of criticism by human rights defenders.
SUARAM welcomes the repeal of the ISA and all other preventive detention laws including the Dangerous Drugs Act and a more progressive approach to civil and political rights in the country. However, these must be substantive reforms and not merely cosmetic, as seen with the amendments to the University and University and Colleges Act (UUCA) in 2009. The Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act have not been considered in yesterday’s announcement nor was there mention of the IPCMC that has been recommended by the Royal Police Commission a few years ago.
To show his sincerity in carrying out these reforms, SUARAM calls on the PM to immediately implement the following:
1.       Current EO and ISA detainees be released forthwith or put on trial under current legislation.
2.       An immediate moratorium on the requirement to apply for a permit for any peaceful public assembly.
3.       The formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) should be the basis for governance and our government has yet to ratify the International Covenants on Civil & Political Right and Economic, Social & Cultural Right; the Conventions against Torture; on Refugees, and on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination.
Looking further down the road to a society focused on social justice, equality, and democracy, existing and future laws must conform to international human rights standards and principles if Malaysia is to join the ranks of developed nations.
Finally, SUARAM would like to congratulate GMI, the peoples of Malaysia and all the brave victims of human rights abuses who have stood up for their rights and demanded the end to detention without trial and real change in the country.
SUARAM was founded in the shadow of the ISA. We will continue our work of upholding and promoting human rights.
Released by,
Hasbeemasputra Abu Bakar
Coordinator