Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014, 14:40 GMT

Malaysia: 50 Draconian Years under the Internal Security Act (ISA)

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 1 August 2010
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Malaysia: 50 Draconian Years under the Internal Security Act (ISA), 1 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c752b2f1c.html [accessed 19 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

1 August 2010

Kuala Lumpur-Geneva-Paris, 1st August 2010 - On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and their member organisation in Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), jointly reiterate their call on the Government of Malaysia to take all necessary measures to repeal this law and release all individuals still detained under the ISA.

Since its enactment in 1960, succeeding emergency laws aimed at combating the communist insurgency during the 1940s and 1950s, the ISA has facilitated serious human rights abuses, including torture and ill-treatment, and has therefore been repeatedly denounced, including by local human rights groups in Malaysia and again recently, in June, by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention during its mission to Malaysia(1).

The ISA, which allows for arrest without warrant and detention without trial for a term of two years renewable indefinitely in clear violation of internationally recognised human rights standards relating to fair trials, has been invoked against those who commit acts deemed to be "prejudicial to the security of Malaysia", or threatening to the "maintenance of essential services" or "economic life". These vaguely defined security notions have led to the frequent use of the law against citizens peacefully expressing their religious and political beliefs, as well as a number of human rights defenders.

In 2009, the authorities made some welcoming moves, including the release of 40 ISA detainees from Kamunting detention camp (of which at least five were human rights defenders (2) and the announcement that the law will be amended based on feedback obtained from various stakeholders. However, at the same time, new arrests under the ISA have been documented by SUARAM. 16 individuals are currently detained under the ISA in Malaysia – among which 14 were detained after the Government had announced its review of the legislation. Furthermore, no major local human rights groups, including the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) Movement (3) and SUARAM, have been properly consulted in the amendments process despite the fact that these groups have been active on the issue for many years. These contradictory signs seem to indicate the Government's lack of sincerity in reviewing the ISA and its intention to retain the archaic and draconian legislation.

On the occasion of the anniversary of the draconian ISA, OMCT, FIDH and SUARAM also express gravest concerns over other existing emergency and anti-subversion laws which also provide for indefinite detention without trial, namely the Emergency Ordinance 1969 (EO) and the Dangerous Drugs Act 1985 (DDA). As of February 2010, 819 individuals were detained without trial under the EO, while 412 were incarcerated under the DDA – giving a total of more than 1,200 individuals detained without trial in Malaysia.

OMCT, FIDH and SUARAM thus strongly reiterate their call to the Government of Malaysia to take the necessary steps to repeal the ISA and all other detention-without-trial laws in order to respect fundamental rights and freedoms.

While the Government has announced that the ISA would be amended, OMCT, FIDH and SUARAM strongly note their position that all detention-without-trial laws must be repealed and not amended, even more as they deal with the various offences covered by other existing legislations which are more in line with international human rights standards as compared to the draconian ISA, EO and DDA.

OMCT, FIDH and SUARAM further urge the Government to immediately release all remaining individuals detained under the ISA and other detention-without-trial laws in the absence of valid legal charges and judicial process consistent with international legal standards, or if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times.

Finally, OMCT, FIDH and SUARAM call upon the Government and the police force to uphold their commitment to put an immediate end to the continued crackdown on the Malaysian civil society, notably in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Noting the harsh crackdown on the anti-ISA rally which was held exactly one year ago (which saw 589 persons, including juveniles, arrested by the police), our organisations strongly call upon the Malaysian Government to authorise the candlelight vigils that will be held against the ISA, on 1st August 2010, in several cities and towns nationwide and condemn any form of repression of the upcoming peaceful protests. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) must also play its role in monitoring any possible violations during the candlelight vigils on 1st August 2010 – a task which the Commission had failed to fulfil despite several requests to do so during harsh crackdown on the 2009 anti-ISA rally.

(1) Already in 2003, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that administrative detention on such grounds, even when in conformity with a domestic law, constitutes a violation of the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial judicial authority. It consequently considered that the detention under such conditions was arbitrary. See Opinion No. 10/2004 (MALAYSIA).

(2) See Urgent Appeal MYS 002 / 0408 / OBS 061.3 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT joint programme.

(3) The movement is composed of 83 organisations and it has campaigned for the abolishment of the law since 2001.

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