Abolish the ISA

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ISA detainees’ families are hurting and suffering, says Syed Ibrahim Syed Nor. The solution is not just to provide welfare aid to the families but to release the detainees and get rid of this draconian law once and for all.

The Abolish ISA Movement (Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA or GMI) is shocked to read a parliamentary written reply issued by the Prime Minister in his capacity as Internal Security Minister as reported in the media on 21 Nov 2007.

In replying to Ismail Noh, the PAS MP for Pasir Mas, on the current number of ISA detainees and the welfare of those detained and their families, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that there were 74 people detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) at Kamunting Detention Camp as at 29 August 2007. Many are detained for their involvement in Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and Darul Islam. (Some) are being detained for smuggling illegal immigrants, falsifying documents and passports and counterfeiting RM1 coins, he said.

He further replied, “Even though strict action is taken against those who threaten our nation’s security, the government is definitely concerned with the welfare of those detained and their families. The detainees can apply for financial aid through the detention centre warden. Their family will be awarded RM200 after the welfare department approves the application.”

This is yet another lie by the government following the statement made by Bernard Dompok, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department exactly a month ago. (GMI issued a statement on this on 22 Oct 2007).

GMI feels that this statement was issued either out of abysmal ignorance of the reality of the situation or as a conspicuous action to cloud the truth. Either way, it is deplorable especially when it is issued in the respectable parliamentary assembly.

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First of all, the reasons given for detention under ISA could have been dealt with under the current Penal Codes. There are enough laws to deal with smuggling, falsifying documents, etc. Why fall back to such a draconian law as the ISA?

Secondly, again there are conflicting statements on the existence of JI in Malaysia. The IGP in a media report on 10 June 2007 was quoted as saying that there is no JI movement in Malaysia. Yet, here in the PM’s reply, it is reported that many detainees were detained for their involvement in JI.

Thirdly, let us look at how concerned the government is about the welfare of the detainees and their families based on some of the following realities:

•    A detainee’s son suffered serious mental disorder and was admitted into HUKM psychiatric ward for further treatment in 2004. It was confirmed by the Doctor in charge that one major cause of the illness was prolonged separation from his father (GMI’s statement dated 30 Sept 2004). No initiatives — such as welfare assistance or counselling — were provided by the government.

•    Detainees went bankrupt as they lost their business and jobs, and thus could not service their business and bank loans. Houses had to be put up for auction when other family members were not able to support. Wives and families had to bear the burden of surviving by selling recycled products, nasi campur or soya drinks at night market stalls, and selling cakes during Hari Raya. Some of the wives suffered health problems such as back pains due to additional burden and responsibilities.

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•    One such case reported by GMI was the desperate act of a detainee’s wife to support herself and her one-year-old by working in a night club. She, a Muslim, began to drink and reportedly took up drugs. (GMI’s memorandum to Suhakam and statement dated 21 May 2007).

•    Several of the detainees’ children had to stop going to school for a while due to trauma and inability to pay school fees and buy books. No welfare assistance or moral support was provided by the government except that given by the GMI and its coalition organizations as well as concerned citizens.

These are just examples of the many difficulties faced by the families but they suffice to prove the Prime Minister and his administration’s incapability in providing welfare assistance, moral support or counselling as claimed by the PM in his parliamentary written reply.

GMI strongly views the statement as conflicting when GMI has reported time and again how the Special Branch (SB) officers harassed the wives and families. In a GMI statement on 12 August 2005, 32 items were listed as harassment and mental pressure by the SB on the wives and families of detainees. These include receiving vulgar SMS and harassing calls in the middle of the night, being trailed by SBs, cars broken into, and constant threats by SBs if they continued to fight for their husbands’ freedom. Are these not anti-welfare and anti-moral?

On the so called financial aid mentioned, GMI is astonished as to how such information is for the first time being mentioned and heard of by the detainees and families in a formal manner. Yes, the process is there, but the PM failed to mention the selectiveness of the aid, the time taken to approve it, and whether RM200 is for a month, a year or for the whole detention period. Whatever the case, it is far from enough to sustain even an average family.

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GMI believes that the solution is not just by providing welfare or moral support to the families. The solution for the wives and families is to be reunited with their husbands. The detainees should be brought to court for trial; otherwise, they should be released to their families.

GMI calls on the Prime Minister and his ministry (Internal Affairs Ministry) to report the facts and nature of the conditions of the detainees and their families. The fact of the matter is that the people will now question whether the Prime Minister in his capacity as the Internal Security Minister is fully aware of the situation of the most feared and abused law in the land, that is the ISA.

GMI strongly urges the Government to respect the right to trial and calls for the abolition of the ISA and all forms of detention without trial; charge all detainees in an open court or else release them immediately and unconditionally. “Emergency” laws in Malaysia disregard human rights and violate the safeguards enshrined in the Federal Constitution and international human rights law.

Abolish ISA! Release all ISA detainees! Close down Kamunting Detention Camp!

Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh is the chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement 

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