Thursday, December 13, 2007

ISA detentions of Hindraf heroes side-step justice system -- Malik Imtiaz

Friday, December 14, 2007
HINDRAF 5: ISA Detentions Side-Step Justice System

What need was there to detain the HINDRAF five under the Internal Security Act?

The ISA is a draconian law. It has no place in the modern and mature society that Malaysia is. It has been condemned internationally and locally. The manner in which the ISA allows for subjective detention without trial is violative of the fundamental liberties of persons detained in a manner that cannot be justified in any circumstance.

The Government’s position is that the five are threats to national security and public order and that they are a menace to the public for having lied about the Government in accusing it of ethnic cleansing, for having organized illegal assemblies and for having had links with terrorist groups (‘5 Hindraf leaders a threat to national security’, NST, 14.12.2007).

These accusations reveal the possibility of the five having engaged in criminal activity. Three of the five have already been charged with sedition (though I wish to stress that I do not view the offence of sedition as being constitutional). Chapter VIA of the Penal Code was recently added to allow for the prosecution of persons involved in terrorist activity. Appropriate arguments could be mounted to oppose bail to ensure that pending the trial of the five, they would be prevented from fleeing the jurisdiction and, arguably, from repeating the offensive activity.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that no matter how heinous the activity complained of may appear, accusations remain mere accusations until and unless they are made out in a court of law. Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The detentions are therefore clearly preemptive, allowing for a side-stepping of a criminal justice system that is aimed at ensuring that no person is denied his constitutionally guaranteed right to liberty save where it is denied through an exercise of judicial scrutiny replete with inbuilt safeguards aimed at ensuring that an innocent person is not mistakenly imprisoned.

The Government would have us believe that rather than preemptive, the detentions are preventive. The crucial question is on whose account. The Government can hardly be considered to be objective bearing in mind the cause HINDRAF espouses. We have heard much of the Government having taken grave exception to the positions HINDRAF has taken. In the very public fanfare surrounding the official reaction to HINDRAF, we have been made to understand that the Prime Minister is angry at the suggestion of ethnic cleansing. He is outraged at the lies that he feels HINDRAF has allegedly told of his Government ('Governmnent doing its best for Indians', NST, 02.12.2007; 'PM: They want to destroy the country', Malaysiakini, 13.12.2007). He is also, by virtue of being the Internal Security Minister, the authority responsible for the issuance of detention orders.

Anger is not sound basis for objective decision-making. It is further not a proper legal basis for the issuance of a detention order.

In the same vein, political expediency cannot be allowed to become a factor, more so where the detentions are a ‘face saving’ measure. And as much as the Government may deny this to be the case, the truth is that the Government is acting in its own cause. This is as compelling a reason as any to not invoke the subjective processes of the ISA.

The Prime Minister has publicly declared that the authorities have evidence of the alleged terrorist links HINDRAF is said to have ('Close watch on Hindraf', The Star, 08.12.2007). Minister Nazri has also publicly declared the existence of such links ('Link is with Tamil Tigers and India's Rss, says Nazri', The Star, 08.12.2007). If this is the case, then there is more reason for the five or any number of other persons involved to be appropriately charged and prosecuted.

The detention of the HINDRAF 5 may also have the retrogressive effect of, by reason of its ‘chilling’ effect, stifling genuine civil society efforts aimed at promoting discourse on the path this nation must take to ensure sustainable and inclusive development. This would include efforts by various interest groups aimed at addressing the underlying grievances that have caused citizens to peaceably assemble these past five weeks or so. It would be regrettable if these groups, in particular that part of the Indian community that, no matter the rhetoric and the politics of the situation, have felt represented in a way that they have not before were to take from the detentions a signal that the Government does not consider their situation and grievances as being of sufficient importance.


Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 10:13 AM

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