As of 28 June 2012, there are 45 detainees left being held under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA). Finally, the long struggle against ISA is close to an end. Or so we thought.
The truth of the matter is whilst the abolishment of the ISA may have been announced by the Prime Minister, it has not been abolished. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) has been gazetted on 22 June 2012 but it has yet to come into force. Until the Minister sets a date for the coming into force of SOSMA, the ISA is still well and alive. It is still omnipresent and can still be invoked.
An optimist would think that since SOSMA was gazetted, surely it won’t be long until it comes into force. Reality is, even if SOSMA comes into force, thus repealing the ISA, the detention orders made against the 45 detainees would still be valid under s.32 of SOSMA. That section states that the repeal of the ISA shall not affect any order issued or made under the repealed ISA prior to the date of coming into operation of SOSMA, unless earlier revoked by the Minister; and any action or proceedings taken under the repealed ISA prior to the date of coming into operation of SOSMA.
The 45 detainees will not be free until otherwise ordered by the Home Minister. This shows a lack of good faith by the government in abolishing ISA. If the government recognises that the ISA is a bad law and thus abolishes it, surely logic dictates that any orders made under a bad law is, therefore, a fortiori bad as well. The inclusion of s.32 of SOSMA simply shows that the government does not recognise that ISA is a bad law and SOSMA is simply passed to belatedly appease its many critics.
It is said that ISA detainees are detained because the executive knows that they are guilty but is unable to prove so. Such severe case of premature adjudication highlights the underlying problem with the ISA, which contrariwise is not the legislation itself, but rather, with the lack of recognition and the wilful ignorance of basic human liberties and the presumption of innocence by the executive. The executive must understand that it is not they who decide who is innocent or guilty, it is the judiciary. From the everyday investigation of petty crimes to investigations under ISA, the executive must realise that the persons being investigated is innocent until proven guilty. If the executive sets off on the premise that the persons being investigated is guilty even without judicial pronouncement and use existing laws, good or bad, as a form of punishment towards such persons, the executive is thus abusing both its powers and existing laws.
Kamunting, like the Waiting Place, is a most useless place. To quote Dr Seuss:
‘the waiting place is for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mall to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No, or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting’.
The detainees are just waiting, for a charge to come or for the freedom to go. Most detainees do not understand the reality of their situation and most of them think that their ordeal will be over after the 2 years detention period because to them, the ISA has been repealed. To tell them that their release from detention is not the end of their ordeal is cruel but necessary. Their detention period under the ISA could still be extended as ISA has yet to be repealed. Even if it was, they could still be detained again under SOSMA and be brought back into detention. The time spent under ISA detention would account for nothing. Even when they are brought to trial and be acquitted, it is still not the end, they could still remain in detention until all avenues of appeal are exhausted by the prosecution. It is far from over for them and it is not easy for them to understand that.
It is easy to prejudge the ISA detainees and turn a blind eye towards them because it is after all their peril, not ours. But we should not, lest one day such injustice would be occasioned on us. And when it does, we would hope that society would be more sensitive and less selfish.
The eventual death of the ISA is not the end, it is just the beginning. It is not only the ISA and its many spawns that we have to fight to change. Nor is it only for the release of the detainees. No. It is the very bedlam in our executive that we must fight to change and until we can do so other forms of human rights abuse may take place on any one of us.
As of 28 June 2012, there are 45 detainees left being held under the ISA. The struggle has just begun.