Friday, September 19, 2008

The Internal Security Act 1960: A throwback to the era of tyranny

The Internal Security Act 1960: A throwback to the era of tyranny
Contributed by Sunil Lopez a/l Ceasar Lopez
Thursday, 14 February 2008 08:59pm
Settling disputes among individuals and ascertaining the guilt of a member of society who is charged with committing an offence by a tribunal of law has been the hallmark of a civilised and democratic society for some time now.

In feudal times and before, the power to decide on a dispute and to mete out punishment lay absolutely in the hands of one person or with a privileged few. It was a power that was used, often I suspect, without question and arbitrarily.

The majority of legal systems which exist in this day and age are not without flaws but as the essential feature of most of these systems are public trials presided over by persons charged with upholding the rule of law and dispensation of justice, it must, in my view, be accepted that anything else would be a poor substitute.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, otherwise known as Lord Acton, once wrote in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The validity of that statement is beyond reproach and I would think that no right thinking member of society would dare disagree, at least not in broad daylight.

It therefore seems inconceivable to me that even in these ‘enlightened times’, there exists a patch of the past, a throwback, if you will, to the bygone era of tyrannical monarchs where the word of one is sufficient to affix guilt to a human being. Inconceivable it may be but the continued existence of legislation like the Internal Security Act 1960 (I.S.A.) is such a ‘patch’ and an unjust one at that.

The I.S.A. conveys into the hands of one person, the power to detain without trial and also it appears, without question. The existence of such power would perhaps be excusable if that one person had the biblical qualities of Nabi Sulaiman or King Solomon as he is otherwise known, but alas we don’t run into many kings of that nature these days.

Some may reason that preventive detention is a necessary evil, especially in these dark times of terrorism but the upshot is that the liberty of individuals takes a backseat, the years of legal evolution grind to a halt and the trek towards authoritarianism begins anew.

The I.S.A. is a common dirty word [sic] among Malaysians who even consider voicing their dissent against government policies and decisions. It is an abbreviation which strikes fear and stifles the development of a just and equitable society.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, when faced with criticism for the enactment of the I.S.A. said that it will "be used solely against the communists...My Cabinet colleagues and I gave a solemn promise to Parliament and the nation that the immense powers given to the government under the I.S.A would never be used to stifle legitimate opposition and silence lawful dissent.”

Even at its inception, it was recognised that the I.S.A. could be abused and that it is a powerful tool in the hands of the government of the day.

Today, the spectre of the unchallenged use of the I.S.A continues to haunt the citizens of this nation.

The time is long overdue for the abolishment of this draconian and archaic legislation.

It is with that in mind that a motion calling for the abolishment of the I.S.A. has been submitted for consideration at the Kuala Lumpur Bar’s 16th Annual General Meeting on February 21, 2008.



RECOGNISING that the detention of persons without trial as provided for by the Internal Security Act 1960, violates principles of the Rule of Law and Human Rights.;

CONDEMNING the Internal Security Act 1960 as legislation that is draconian and archaic and prone to abuse;

REAFFIRMING the Malaysian Bar’s Motion dated 27 November 1987, calling for the abolishment of the Internal Security Act 1960.

CONDEMNING the recent detention without trial on 13 December 2007 of 4 members of the Malaysian Bar, in particular, 2 members of the Kuala Lumpur Bar, namely Uthayakumar Ponnusamy and Manoharan Malayalam under the Internal Security Act 1960.


1. That the Kuala Lumpur Bar calls on the Government of Malaysia to immediately repeal the Internal Security Act 1960 and to adopt the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) contained in their Review of the Internal Security Act 1960 report of 2003; and

2. That the Kuala Lumpur Bar calls for all the current detainees under the Internal Security Act, to, be released immediately and where appropriate, be charged in an open and public trial.

Dated : 13th day of February, 2008

Proposer : Sunil Lopez
Seconders : Lim Fang Say
Amer Hamzah Arshad

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