Time to abolish the ISA for good

Not one person should be held in detention without trial as it violates basic human rights, asserts Norlaila Othman, whose husband has been detained without trial for seven years.


My name is Norlaila Othman.  I am a Malaysian.  I speak on behalf of my husband, Mat Sah bin Mohd Satray, who has been detained by the Malaysian government under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for more than seven years.  Under the ISA, the government can detain people without even the most basic of due process rights.  The ISA is extremely broadly worded and allows for indefinite detention without trial.  My husband was detained in April 2002 and is now occupying a cell at Kamunting Detention Camp, deprived of his liberty.  He has never been charged and has not had the possibility of a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Under the ISA, the Malaysian judiciary has been systematically excluded from playing any meaningful role in ensuring that those detained are treated in accordance with international human rights norms.  There is no effective judicial review.  Habeas corpus is only available on narrow and technical grounds.  Judges cannot review grounds of detention and are not shown the purported evidence against detainees.  

The ISA allows for review of detentions by an executive-appointed Advisory Board.  The Advisory Board has no power to free detainees.  It can only make non-binding recommendations to the government.  Appearances before the Advisory Board are a farce because the authorities never disclose evidence or documents to the detainee.   

My husband was first accused of being a member of one terrorist organisation, then later another.  However during the seven plus years that he has already spent in detention, no evidence has been produced to substantiate the accusation.  Instead, he is required to attend counselling programmes and encouraged to admit the allegations against him.  The authorities have yet to prove he actually engaged in any illegal activity. Others arrested at the same time as him have long been released.  He has been told the only reason he is still detained is due to my activism.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has stated that the detention of my husband is arbitrary and contravenes Articles 9 and 10 of the UDHR.  I strongly urge the Human Rights Council to visit Kamunting Detention Camp and meet my husband personally.  I call on the Malaysian government to facilitate this visit.

I hope the visit will lead to the release of my husband and others who are enduring the same experience.  In my case, the most affected victim is my only son, Suhaib, aged 16.  The ISA separated Suhaib from his father when he was nine. For seven years, he has been waiting every day for his father’s release.  It is very sorrowful to see him grow up with this uncertainty for such a long time and being deprived of the love, care and guidance of his father.  Not one person should be held in detention without trial as it violates basic human rights.  I am appearing here today not just for the sake of my husband but also for all who continue to be detained without trial under the ISA and their family members.

I call on the Malaysian government to accept and implement the recommendations of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requesting the Malaysian government to take necessary steps to remedy my husband’s situation to conform with provisions and principles enshrined in the UDHR.

Norlaila Othman is involved in the Family Support Group of the Abolish ISA Movement (GMI).