Think Centre (TC), one of Singapore’s oldest political NGOs, welcomes and applauds the announcement by the Malaysian government to repeal the controversial 51-year-old law allowing for detention without trial and to ease other legislation curbing civil liberties.
The ISA allows an individual to be held virtually indefinitely for acts considered a threat to national security or to prevent such acts. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak added that the Banishment Act would be repealed while he will do away with the need for annual publishing permits under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA). He also said that the Police Act would be amended to allow for freedom of assembly according to international norms, although street protests would still be outlawed.
Since TC’s founding in 1999, one of the first human rights issues that it championed for is the abolishment of the ISA. In 2000, TC drew widespread international attention when it initiated a peaceful demonstration as part of its Abolish ISA campaign at the nation state’s Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park. Several TC leaders were however called up by police for investigations in the aftermath of the demonstration.
In the past decade, TC has continued to champion tirelessly for the abolishment of this and other related legislation that run contrary to the fundamental principles of human rights such as the right to life, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. While TC does not support any form of indefinite detention without trial, any new legislation must ensure detentions can only be carried out by court orders in the face of threats to national security or sovereignty. As such, powers of detention should never be vested with the executive or the police.
In this regard, TC urges the Singapore government to follow Malaysia’s lead in repealing the ISA and other legislation curbing civil liberties and infringing on the fundamental human rights of its people. In this new political norm, whereby a new social compact has been forged after a watershed year of electoral progress, TC appeals to the Government to review and rethink its approach to the management of the civil and political rights of Singaporeans. This same call will be championed without fear or favour by TC in its upcoming oral intervention at the Universal Periodic Review plenary, before the UN Human Rights Council this September.
“Singapore will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so”, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong informed visiting Malaysian journalists, according to a report in The Straits Times, dated 3 February 1991. However a statement released today by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the ISA disappointingly appears to be a recantation of what the now Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had promised 20 years ago. PM Lee should seriously keep his word and consider abolishing the Internal Security Act now that Malaysia has announced it will repeal the Act.
As 2011 has shown, Singapore society has come of age in terms of civil and political engagement. If the Government truly wishes to re-make Singapore into a place we call home, it must first cast away archaic legislation such as the ISA and keep up with liberalisation of democratic norms. Doing so will allow Singapore to transform itself into a truly modern, mature and functioning democracy.
Kong Soon Tan is president of Think Centre