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VI. Conclusion: The ISA––A Blunt, Ineffective Tool

Whether the men and boys identified in this report have actually engaged in illegal activity is not known. Until the government puts all ISA detainees on trial or releases them, the guilt or innocence of the detainees will remain in doubt.

Just before he stepped down as prime minister, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed defended his record of ISA detentions by saying, “We have to put a stop to menace by all means, even before it happens.  A law like the ISA, which is not blatantly used, is necessary as a preventive measure.”196

As the detention period for some enters its fourth year without trial, that rationale becomes more and more difficult to accept.  Although the government claims that the ISA is necessary to “nip problems in the bud,” as former Prime Minister Mahathir has put it, arresting individuals before they commit a terrorist act does not preclude bringing them to trial.197  Under Malaysian criminal law, individuals can be tried for conspiracy or aiding and abetting if they are found to be planning an act of terrorism or assisting known terror groups.198  Yet even now, the Malaysian government has refused to give the detainees their day in court. 

On March 1, 2003, a group of 16 ISA detainees launched a hunger strike to protest their continued detention under the ISA.  The hunger strike was led by the so-called KMM detainees, those alleged by the government to be part of a militant group called Kumpulan Militan Malaysia.

The hunger strike was the latest tactic adopted by detainees to protest their continuing detention without charge or trial.  In September, a group of 31 detainees issued a statement declaring their innocence and demanding their day in court.  In January, a group of detainees issued statements alleging threats and abuse by Malaysian security officials.  Lawyers for the detainees have repeatedly filed petitions with the Malaysian courts challenging the legality of their detention, but have yet to win full review of a single case by the courts.  At the beginning of the hunger strike, two men have collapsed and have been taken to a local hospital, and others later had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.

As this report went to press, revelations of mistreatment and even torture of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib led to an international storm of criticism of the U.S.  Governments around the world condemned the U.S. for allowing such abuses to happen, and President Bush promised not only a full and immediate investigation, but also key changes to rules governing the treatment of detainees in order to ensure that such abuses would not happen again.

In the days after the Abu Ghraib story broke, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi joined the chorus of international criticism against the U.S. for allowing such shocking and degrading treatment to take place.  “There is no excuse for what happened,” Abdullah told reporters.  “We cannot accept it, and there is no justification at all for such inhumane treatment of the Iraqi prisoners.”  Malaysian defense minister Najib Razak issued his own stern rebuke, and called for a full investigation.  “Those involved should be severely punished, but the overall treatment of prisoners should also be reviewed by the U.S. government,” the defense minister said.

These calls for accountability over the Abu Ghraib scandal are welcome. But the Malaysian government has a pattern of abuse of its own to deal with, one that, up to this point, it has alternately denied and ignored.  The Malaysian government needs to fully investigate the charges of abuses against ISA detainees, and punish those responsible.  Furthermore, the Malaysian government needs to begin the process of fair trials for all ISA detainees.  These trials are long overdue.

[196] “Dr Mahathir – Government never abused ISA for power, personal gain,” New Straits Times, October 31, 2003.

[197] Ibid.

[198] Criminal conspiracy is handled by s. 120A and 120B of the criminal code. Other relevant provisions include those on aiding and abetting (s. 107-119) and on common intention (s. 35).

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>May 2004