(New York)—The Malaysian government should not renew the detention orders of seven men who have been held for more than two years without charge or trial for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities, Human Rights Watch said today. Malaysian authorities will decide tomorrow whether to extend the men’s detention for another renewable two-year period under the country’s Internal Security Act.
“After two years, the government’s claim that they must hold these seven men without charge in order to continue investigations no longer makes sense,” said Sam Zia-Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “If the government has enough evidence to bring these men to trial, then it should do so. If not, then they should be released immediately.”
Relatives of the roughly 100 detainees held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) have told Human Rights Watch that detainees are subjected to solitary confinement, threats, and mental and physical intimidation after their arrest. Some have also reported seeing evidence of physical abuse. Authorities previously prevented detainees from receiving legal assistance, although they now have limited access to counsel.
The seven detainees—Shukry Omar Talib, Muhamad Faiq Hafidh, Shahrial Sirin, Mohammed Kadar, Abdullah Daud, Muhamad Ismail Anuawarul and Sharil Hat—were arrested in January 2002 on allegations that they were involved with a regional militant organization, Jemaah Islamiyah (”Islamic Organization” in Arabic), allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda.
Last week, six other men detained under the ISA for alleged connections to Jemaah Islamiyah— Ahmad Yani Ismail, Abdul Samad Shukri Mohd, Abdul Razak Baharudin, Mohd Sha Sarijan, Ahmad Sajuli Abd Rahman and Suhaimi Mokhtar—received two-year renewals of their detentions. To date, at least 20 of the roughly 100 individuals held without trial over alleged connections to terrorist organizations have had their detentions extended an additional two years.
After being taken into custody, all of the men who have been detained on suspicion of links to militant groups have initially been denied access to legal counsel, and have been held without charge or trial. According to family members of the ISA detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, security officials promised the men they would receive an early release if they “cooperated,” which meant, in part, that the detainees would not challenge their detention in court or speak to the media or human rights groups.
The Malaysian government has repeatedly used the ISA, which was enacted in 1960 to deal with the Communist insurgency, to silence political opponents of Malaysia’s longtime ruling party, UMNO. Under the ISA, government officials may order persons detained without even the most basic due process rights. Most importantly, the government may detain individuals it deems a threat to national security for as long as it sees fit, with no meaningful judicial review.
Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister who was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a trial that was marred by violations of due process and charges of judicial bias, was detained in 1998, initially under provisions of the ISA. In 2001, 10 leading political activists were detained under the ISA in the run-up to planned protests over Anwar’s continued detention. The regular use of the ISA as a political tool casts doubt on the Malaysian government’s claim that the ISA is now being used for “legitimate” purposes.
“The Malaysian government has taken advantage of the ‘war on terror’ to justify holding these men indefinitely,” Zia-Zarifi said. “Given the sad history of abuse under the Internal Security Act, no one can take the Malaysian government at its word. These seven men deserve their day in court.”