Human Rights Watch also called on Malaysian authorities to release ten opposition leaders and rights activists detained under the ISA in the past three weeks, or else charge them and ensure that they are promptly and fairly tried. ISA detainees can be held indefinitely without trial.
"The Internal Security Act invites abuse. It strips detainees of basic rights and should be immediately repealed," said Joe Saunders, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Once again, this draconian law is being used to conduct a political witch hunt."
Since April 10, nine opposition leaders and one prominent human rights activist have been detained under the ISA, and held incommunicado with no access to lawyers or family. Human Rights Watch, in its global review of rights developments in 2000 (World Report 2001), noted that the human rights situation in Malaysia had deteriorated, largely because of Prime Minister Mahathir's determination to crush his political rivals. Nine of the ten who have been arrested are well-established opposition figures and most are members of the opposition party Keadilan, founded by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah.
The most recent detainee is human rights advocate Badaruddin Ismail, 56, popularly known as "Pak Din." Pak Din is an activist with Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), one of a small handful of groups that dare to be openly critical of Malaysia's human rights policies. He specializes in assisting the families of persons arbitrarily detained by the state and was working on a book on the proceedings of the National Human Rights Commission's inquiry into police brutality on a rally on November 5, 2000 when he was detained on the morning of April 26.
The ISA grants extraordinary powers to the police and the executive branch to arrest and detain individuals on a preventive basis. Under the ISA a person can be detained and interrogated for up to sixty days without access to counsel. Following an initial sixty-day investigative period an ISA prisoner can be held without trial for up to two years, with the possibility of renewal every two years indefinitely. Torture, including its use to extract false confessions, has been reported by many former ISA detainees.
Any police officer may, without a warrant, arrest and detain anyone he has "reason to believe" has acted or is likely to act in "any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia." For the first sixty days, detainees may be held without access to lawyers. In addition to provisions for arrest, the ISA allows for restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and expression, freedom of movement, residence and employment. It also allows for the closing of schools and educational institutions if they are used as a meeting place for an unlawful organization or for any other reason are deemed detrimental to the interests of Malaysia or the public.
Efforts by attorneys in Malaysia to compel the police to produce these latest ISA prisoners in court have so far failed. In other countries, human rights lawyers frequently use habeas corpus applications (a writ ordering a prisoner to be brought before a court to determine whether the detention is lawful) to confirm that a person held incommunicado by the authorities is alive and has not been subjected to mistreatment. In Malaysia, a 1989 amendment of the ISA removed the jurisdiction of courts to hear habeas corpus petitions from ISA detainees. On April 25, 2001, Judge Augustine Paul of the Malaysian High Court (also presiding judge in Anwar Ibrahim's 1999 corruption trial) rejected the habeas corpus application of five of the activists detained under the ISA.
Malaysia's national human rights commission (known by its Malay acronym Suhakam) formally requested but has been denied access to the detainees.
Suhakam has also called for review of the ISA and other laws, followed by amendment or repeal of those that infringe human rights.
Those arrested are: Tian Chua, 37, Keadilan vice-president; Saari Sungib, 43, a member of the Keadilan's policy making council; Ezam Mohamad Noor, 34, Keadilan youth leader; N. Gobalakrishnan, 41, Keadilan youth secretary; activists Abdul Ghani Haroon, 36, Penang Keadilan Youth Exco, and Hishamuddin Rais, 50; Raja Petra Kamarudin, 49, director of the Free Anwar campaign website; Dr Badrul Amin Baharom, Keadilan National Youth Exco; Lokman Nor Adam, Executive Secretary of Youth Wing, Keadilan, and Badaruddin Ismail, 56, activist, Suara Rakyat Malaysia.