MPs should not fail their human rights responsibilities for the fifth time in two years and should ensure a special parliamentary debate on Suhakam's latest report on its public inquiry into the ISA conditions of detention

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): Members of Parliament should not fail their human rights responsibilities for the fifth time in two years and should ensure a special parliamentary debate on Suhakam's latest report on its public inquiry into the Internal Security Act conditions of detention at the forthcoming parliamentary meeting starting on Monday.

In the past two years, Parliament had been most negligent and irresponsible when it failed its duty to monitor and oversee Suhakam to ensure that the Human Rights Commission discharge its statutory responsibility to protect and promote human rights through detailed scrutiny and in-depth debate on four Suhakam reports, viz:

  • Suhakam Annual Report 2000 in April 2001

  • Suhakam report on its first public inquiry into the Kesas Highway Incident on 5th November 2000 and made public in August 2001;

  • Suhakam report on Freedom of Assembly submitted to Parliament on October 2001; and

  • Suhakam Annual Report 2002 in April 2002.

In June last year, DAP MP for Tanjong, Chow Kon Yeow had tried twice to get the Suhakam 2001 annual report debated by Parliament, but was frustrated by the Speaker, Tun Mohamed Zahir Ismail.

If Parliament again abdicates its human rights responsibilities for the fifth time in two years to debate Suhakam's latest report, then Members of Parliament would have forfeited their right to criticize government departments for any similar irresponsibility or dereliction of duty.

In its latest report, Suhakam had made 18 recommendations aimed at improving the detention conditions of the ISA detainees.

The Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in his capacity as Home Minister, should table a Ministerial statement on the government's position on each of the 18 Suhakam recommendations, which should form the basis for the parliamentary debate on the latest Suhakam report.

The government should in particular state whether it is prepared to accept Suhakam's recommendations on the following:

  • The police should at all times exercise their utmost care in ensuring that the right to liberty, as enshrined in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution and Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, is not violated without due justification.

  • Individuals should not be detained under the ISA unless genuine reasons exist for believing that such individuals are a threat to national security. Where detentions are necessary, such detentions should only be for as long as is absolutely necessary.

  • Effective investigations should be carried out into allegations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of ISA detainees. Disciplinary action should be taken in respect of officers who have been found upon investigation to have mistreated detainees.

  • Family members should be informed of the arrest of detainees within 24 hours of the arrest. Detainees should not be required to wait for two weeks before gaining access to their families.

  • Appropriate amendments should be made to Rule 22(6) of the Lock-Up Rules 1958, to protect the right to privacy of the detainee during family visits, as guaranteed under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • Detainees should be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest in accordance with Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.

  • Detainees should be allowed access to counsel during the aforesaid production before a magistrate and supplied with a copy of the grounds of arrest.

As a two-time ISA detainee in 1969 and 1987, I find the claims by the Special Branch Social Intelligence Assistant Director Anuar Bashah Mohd Sohore to the Suhakam public inquiry that the 60-day ISA interrogative custody - where detainees are often held incommunicado - was not a brain-washing session and that physical force was not used on ISA detainees as totally lacking in credibility.

Although I had personally not experienced any physical mistreatment, the fact of physical violence and torture of ISA detainees had been amply recorded, even in sworn affidavits, for any police officer to make any credible denials.

It is for this reason that I could empathize with ISA detainee Saari Sungib when, in his 158-page personal account of his 60-day interrogation, he exposed police interrogation methods and techniques, including police claims of the existence and function of an alleged shadowy police unit called Federal Investigation Team (FIT) and police boasts about having powers to determine who becomes Malaysia's prime minister and cabinet ministers.

Special Branch police officers who interrogated me and other DAP leaders during the 1987 Operation Lalang mass arrests had also made various boasts about their "extraordinary power and influence" as well as various claims about DAP leaders and their loved ones to undermine our convictions, steadfastness and fortitude.

On 20th June last year, I had publicly urged the six I ISA reformasi activists, namely Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, Hishamuddin Rais, Chua Tian Chang, Saari Sungib, Badrulamin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam, to reconsider their boycott of the Suhakam public inquiry headed by Tan Sri Harun Hashim and that two of them should appear at the inquiry to have their say on their ISA detention.

The six ISA reformasi activists had boycotted the Harun Hashim public inquiry on two main grounds: the scope of the inquiry and limitation to their appearance to two representatives instead of by all the six.

Their grave reservations about the scope of the Harun Hashim public inquiry was valid, and this was also why I had repeatedly asked Suhakam to clarify whether the inquiry was the beginning of a wide-ranging Suhakam review of the Internal Security Act including whether it should be repealed or whether it was strictly limited to inquiry into the detention conditions of the ISA detainees, including their medical and visitation rights.

I noted that in the first two days of the public inquiry at the Taiping Prisons Club earlier in the week, although Suhakam commissioners had publicly stated that the inquiry would be limited to the detention conditions of the ISA detainees, the testimony went well beyond purely about the detention conditions.

In the circumstances, the refusal of the six ISA reformasi activists to reconsider their boycott of the Suhakam inquiry was a missed opportunity to have their say on ISA so that their first-hand ISA experiences and statements could be the subject of the Suhakam report and ensuing parliamentary or national debate.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman