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A detainee is entitled to judicial review to seek his or her freedom. He or she must not be detained for long period without trial 

Speech at public forum “Remembering Operation Lalang (1987-2007)”
by Tan Seng Giaw


(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): The State of Emergency was declared in Malaya in 1948, culminating in the killing of the British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney. His grave is well kept at the Cheras cemetery.

The British colonial administration used the Emergency Regulations to fight the Communists. In 1960, three years after Merdeka, H.R. Hickling, who passed away, last year, drafted ISA. I met him at a Human Rights Seminar on 3 November in 1988. He said that if the price of ending the emergency was the ISA, then I believe it was worth paying. He did mention that it might be abused.

The first Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman reassures Malaysians: " My Cabinet colleagues and I gave a solemn promise to Parliament and the nation that the immense powers given to the Government under the ISA, 1960, would never be used to stifle legitimate opposition and silence lawful dissent."

During Operation Lalang in the week of October 27, 1987, 107 persons were detained and 39 were sent to Kamunting Detention Centre.

Here, I would not go into the details of detention, interrogation techniques and the suffering of the detainees and their families.

As I was released from Kamunting on 3 June, 2007, I told Kit Siang that my release could not have been true. He said it was. Even so, I replied that I could have been rearrested soon. He reassured me that it could not be so until maybe over 10 years' time.

Twenty years later, ISA is still being used, especially after September 11, 2001 when suicide bombers high jacked passenger liners to attack World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, U.S.A. The UK has her Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and Terrorism Act 2006. She has had a system similar to ISA in Northern Ireland. The USA has the new system of arrest, detention, interrogation and eventual trial by military commission and various acts such as the USA Patriot Act 2001. This system is a form of transnational ISA.

Detention without trial is unacceptable. ISA was promulgated in 1960 to stamp the Communist tide. The Communist Party of Malaya laid down arms in 1989. But, ISA remains.

A detainee is entitled to judicial review to seek his or her freedom. He or she must not be detained for long period without trial.

On 31.10.2007, the Prime Minister Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi gave a written reply in Parliament: "At the moment, the Government feels that ISA is significant because we use it to maintain peace and to ensure the security of the general public.

"Many countries like Singapore, Brunei, Israel, South Africa and the US also use a concept that is similar to our ISA."

There must be alternatives to uphold peace, security and stability in Malaysia, such as specific legislations against those who are bent to destroy the country.

There must be genuine attempt by Government to improve the perception of the people about the judiciary. (A Royal Commission to enquire into all aspects of the judiciary besides the Lingam tape, notwithstanding its authenticity.)

We need a review of detention practices including all ISA detentions, to ascertain the number of cases which are unjustifiable.

We have to review interrogation techniques such as those used against Abdul Malik Hussein (the ISA detainee who was awarded RM 2.5 million damage for the detention in which he was tortured).

We ought to ensure that all detention practices, the interrogation techniques and the judiciary are consistent with the status of a developed nation.


*Tan Seng Giaw, DAP Deputy Chairman & MP for Kepong.

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