Internal Security Act

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"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."  —  Voltaire
"Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."  —  William Pitt [1]
"If we want to save Malaysia and UMNO, Dr. Mahathir (then Prime Minister) must be removed. He uses draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act to silence his critics."  —  Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (1988)
For her safety or to intimidate media?
(in Malay and English)
 (Video credit: BukanLaguSetuju)

The Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) (Malay: Akta Keselamatan Dalam Negeri) is a preventive detention law in force in Malaysia. The legislation allows for the detention of any person without trial for any number of consecutive periods not exceeding 2 years each (or in simple language, "indefinitely") under certain defined circumstances that are characterized by subjective language.[2] ISA detainees are typically held at the Kamunting Detention Center, near Taiping, Perak. As if this is not enough, under Tun Dr. Mahathir, the powers of the Home Minister under the ISA legislation was made immune to judicial review in 1989, only allowing the courts to examine and review technical matters pertaining to the ISA arrest.


2.  Original purpose of the ISA: Preventive detention was first introduced by the British to then Malaya in 1948, primarily to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party, following the proclamation of a state of emergency. Meant to be temporary, the ordinance was repealed when the emergency ended in 1960. True to form, the government immediately passed the Internal Security Act under Article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution that permitted the detention, at the discretion of the Home Minister, without charge or trial, of any person deemed to have acted in any manner prejudicial to the:

  1. security of Malaya (now Malaysia) or part thereof; or
  2. maintenance of essential services; or
  3. economic life.

The then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, defined the purpose of the act as to "be used solely against the communists... My Cabinet colleagues and I gave a solemn promise to Parliament and the nation that the immense powers given to the government under the ISA would never be used to stifle legitimate opposition and silence lawful dissent". In 1989, the powers of the Minister under the legislation was made immune to judicial review by the Mahathir administration.

Sunday Times cover, September 14, 2008.   (click image for larger view)

3.  Opposition to the ISA: Due to the alleged draconian nature of the ISA, several human rights organizations and political parties, including members of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, have strongly criticized the act and called for its repeal. In 1987, Abdullah Badawi, the future founder of Islam Hadhari, said: "Laws such as the Internal Security Act have no place in modern Malaysia. It is a draconian and barbaric law." When he became Prime Minister in 2003, however, he called the ISA "a necessary law".


4.  Abuse of the Internal Security Act (ISA):

  • To provide "protection": On 12 September 2008, Sin Chew Daily reporter, Tan Hoon Cheng, was detained under the ISA for reporting on alleged racist remarks made by the then Bukit Bendera UMNO division chief, Ahmad Ismail, based on what she had personally heard.[3] Lying through his teeth, the Home Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said that police intelligence had ascertained that Tan's safety was threatened and that swift action had to be taken to ensure her safety. Tan was released the following day after Syed Hamid claimed that the police were satisfied with her answers during questioning. No mention nor special arrangements were made regarding the threats to her safety which presumably must have vaporized, less than 24 hours after her detention.
  • To punish those who insult Muslims: Also on 12 September 2008, Raja Petra Kamarudin was put under ISA detention for comments in his article, entitled "I promise to be a good, non-hypocritical Muslim", that allegedly insulted Muslims.[4]

5.  Repeal of the Internal Security Act: The repeal of the Internal Security Act in 2009 and introduction of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 removes the government's right to detain a person without trial, and reduces the maximum detention period from two years to 28 days. The repeal, however, did not cover those who had been detained earlier under the law.[5]



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