What’s wrong with the ISA?

By Deborah Loh, The Nut Graph

MOB rule. "Ini bukan budaya kita". Public nuisance. The 20,000 who marched on 1 Aug 2009 in Kuala Lumpur against the Internal Security Act (ISA) have been labelled these.

Whether or not one agrees with using street protests as a way to express an opinion, the fact is that peaceful demonstrations are recognised as a universal human right. Would the outcome of the march have been quicker and less messy if this principle were accepted?

In part one of a two-part interview, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) vice-president R Sivarasa talks to The Nut Graph after he was released following his arrest and two-day detention for being part of the 1 Aug anti-ISA rally. Sivarasa, who is also the Member of Parliament for Subang and a human rights lawyer, was arrested along with almost 600 others. He explains the dissatisfaction with the government's ongoing review of the ISA, and how peaceful assemblies, allowed even in some neighbouring countries, need not disrupt public order.

TNG: What is Pakatan Rakyat's response to (Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak)'s statement that there is no point demonstrating over the ISA, since the Act is being reviewed?

Sivarasa: The question of review is not the issue. We have a political position that, on principle, the ISA has to be repealed. And we're exercising our basic democratic rights in expressing that view.

The real difference between us is: Pakatan upholds the right to peaceful assembly, and that's a right we will guarantee the people if we run this country. Barisan doesn't want to respect that right. And Barisan is prepared to inflict violence on people, to stop the peaceful exercise of that right. That's the real difference between us.

So, this question about "why demonstrate when we are reviewing" is a red herring. It's a non-issue. Our stand is that we want the ISA abolished, we have our arguments, and we have the political right to express that. What Najib fails to see is that he ought to allow the expression of that view. He's entitled to his view as well.

Many argue that the ISA is still needed to keep terrorism in check. As the opposition, has Pakatan gone so far as to come up with its own draft law to deal with terrorism?

Our view is that, even after you remove the ISA, there are sufficient laws in the Penal Code and various other laws, including the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), to deal with terrorist offences quite adequately. The Penal Code and the CPC were amended in 2006 to deal with that.

And we have already, in our criminal justice system, investigation periods of up to 14 days, which are long compared to some other countries such as the UK, which only allows for 24 hours for normal criminal cases. In Malaysia, for any crime you can be held for 14 days under the CPC with authorisation from a magistrate. Fifteen days, if you include the first 24 hours, for investigation. Even if the police say they need time to investigate because terrorism is involved, they still have 15 days.