Finishing Point

The Internal Security Act has no place in the modern society that Malaysia is. It was designed for a very different time and purpose. As Tun Abdul Razak emphasized in Parliament in 1960 when questioned by a very concerned Opposition as to the purpose of the then pending bill, it was intended only to address the threat to democracy that the Communist insurgency was.

As Malaysians learnt the hard way, it was used for more than that. It became the weapon of choice of politicians who were not averse to prioritizing their personal interests over those of the nation.

The populist gesture of releasing detainees by newly minted Prime Ministers underscores this point. Prime Ministers not having the prerogatives of Kings, there is no basis for benevolent munificence on their part. They are, like the rest of us, expected to act according to the law. The release of detainees is as such intended to reflect a departure from the policy positions of the previous administration and in this, the ISA invoked as a symbol of wrong to showcase a willingness to embrace what is right. The gesture as such proves the injustice that the ISA is.

In fairness, the gesture this time has come with a twist, the promise of a review. Though it is not clear what this means or even that it will occur, the Prime Minister must be given the benefit of the doubt. His concession has vindicated the movement against the continued existence and use of the statute. It also presents a useful opportunity to consider what it is that must be done and why it should be.

There have been numerous objective and careful studies conducted on the ISA by various interested parties. All of these have pointed to a need to review the law, some even going so far as to suggest a repeal of the statute. The essential point made is that the ISA is not consistent with guarantees of civil liberties under Malaysian and international law. The Government has consistently disregarded these suggestions and in justifying itself has pointed to the courts having validated the ISA and actions taken under it, and the need for anti-terror legislation.