An ISA-less Malaysia? Hold the champagne, folks

Posted on September 17, 2011


 Malaysiakini reports PAS’ Hadi Awang as saying that “PAS is taking the wait and see stand on the issue of the abolition of the ISA … because we have to first see what alternative laws that the government says will replace them are”.

Guan Eng is reported to have  expressed reservations as to whether this proposed repeal was genuine, or, with the new laws proposed to take the place of the ISA, Najib’s most recent move is no more than pouring “old wine into a new bottle”.

Zaid Ibrahim, on the other hand, seems rather enamoured by the prime minister’s announcement to finally rid the nation of this most foul law.

“I did not believe Najib had the courage to do something big. Today, I apologise to the prime Minister because he had done something meaningful and big in repealing the ISA”, Zaid is reported to have said.

I think that both Hadi and Guan Eng and every other person who greeted Najib’s announcement with a huge dose of scepticism have good reason to feel so.

As for Zaid’s perspective, well, what can I say?

Let’s keep in sight our real concerns thus far.

It has not been so much the ISA, a ‘detention without trial’ law, but its abuse.

It is the abuse of this piece of legislation almost from its very inception that has been our concern.

At least, that has been my concern.

I can envisage situations where a truly and fully responsible government authority may have legitimate need for the power to pre-emptively detain, but such laws must be countered with stringent checks and balances to prevent any likelihood of abuse.

Following the launch of BERSIH 2.0 on 19th June, and in the run up to the rally on 9th July, I had occasion to ask some in UMNO if we should anticipate the use of the ISA on any of us who were involved in the organisation and planning of the rally.

“No need”, I was told.

Najib, it seemed, had been appraised of an alternative piece of legislation that could be used to same effect without having to suffer further criticism both at home and internationally should he resort to the ISA.

This was section 122 of the Penal Code.

The offence of waging war with the Agung.

That same offence in respect of which the members of Al-Maunah were charged with and many from amongst them convicted.

A capital offence.

And non-bailable pending trial.

The same offence for which the 31 PSM members who were arrested in Juru  during the build-up to the BERSIH 2.0 rally were remanded by the magistrate for purposes of further investigation.

At that time, so the story goes, several DAP and PAS leaders and leaders from civil society were targeted for detention.

The idea being toyed with was to charge several, if not all, of the 31 PSM members arrested, together with DAP, PAS and civil society leaders with a conspiracy to wage war with the Agung, an offence under section 122.

Of course, all those charged would plead not guilty and claim trial.

Being a non-bailable offence, they would all have to be remanded pending trial.

And criminal trials, as many a lawyer and accused will tell you, get postponed incessantly.

And so, Najib would get detentions pending trial without having to resort to the ISA.

By abusing the law , specifically section 122 of the Penal code, and the prosecution powers.

He would be able to achieve what Mahathir achieved during Operasi Lalang in 1987 without having to resort to the ISA.

There is anther reason to hold the champagne.

What Najib announced the other night, by way of reforms, is nothing short of crumbs being tossed at us, the rakyat, from the BN banquet table.

If you ask me, more important than the repeal of the ISA, is the full and complete restoration of the judiciary as an honest institution of state serving the interests of justice and equality.

The recent scandalous decision of the Federal Court in the NCR case from Sarawak serves to demonstrate just how low this institution has sunk.

In short, we have no reason to jubilate over Najib’s announcement of his pre-Hari Malaysia reforms.

Nothing short of a comprehensive reform that gives full effect to the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 and promise of equality to Sabah and Sarawak as partners in the Federation of Malaysia, restoration of all institutions of state to the rakyat, repeal of all draconian laws, freeing of the media, and the establishment of an affirmative action program that effectively reaches out to and uplifts the lives of the 40% marginalised and impoverished rakyat, will suffice.

This, BN will not do.