Did Abdullah sign off two-year ISA detention  extension for reformasi activists or instructed the Deputy Home Minister to sign such an extension order  before going off to “Down Under” for a  10-day holiday leave?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangFriday): Today is Countdown Day 2 for the expiry of  the two-year Ministerial  order of detention  under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for  four reformasi activists  - Tian Chua, Saari Sungib, Hishamuddin Rais and Mohamad Ezam Mohd Nor – and the question is whether  the first three will  walk out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men  on Sunday or the four  will continue to be victims of the draconian ISA  for  another two years.   Mohamad Ezam is serving sentence in Kajang Prison after his conviction under the Official Secrets Act.   

A similar decision awaits   Lokman Noor Adam and  Dr Badrulamin Bahron, whose ISA detention orders expire eleven days later on 12th June.  

What is uppermost in everyone’s mind in the 10-day Countdown for Freedom for the ISA reformasi detainees is whether the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had signed a two-year ISA detention extension for the reformasi activists before going off “Down Under” for a 10-day holiday leave  as he would be returning to his official duties only after the expiry of the current detention orders on Sunday or whether he had left specific instructions to his  Deputy Home  Minister to sign the two-year ISA extension orders on his behalf during his absence? 

If it is neither, and Tian Chua, Saari Sungib and Hishamuddin Rais are to walk out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men after the loss of personal liberty for 782 days, why has Abdullah allowed  the Home Ministry to be so  ingrained and encrusted  with the cult of secrecy which is totally at variance with the era of an information age with its  much higher standards in accountability, transparency and good governance? 

Similarly, if Abdullah has decided to extend the two-year Ministerial orders of ISA detention for the reformasi activists by  another two years, why should it be done with such secrecy and mystery, totally against the tenets of fair play and the rules of natural justice disregarding the rights of the detainees to be heard before they are again deprived of their fundamental right to personal liberty  through further detention without trial? 

A prisoner knows at the end of his sentence  after a one-third remission for good behaviour that he would be able to walk out of prison as a  free person.  But the reformasi activists do not know even 48 hours before the end of their two-year detention whether they will be walking out of Kamunting Detention Centre as free men – which is patently cruel, unjust and offensive to  the most elementary notions of the rule of law when ISA detainees are already treated even more unfairly than prisoners in being denied the one-third remission of sentence entitled by the latter. 

Although the Home Minister is vested with the powers under  Section (8)(7) of the ISA to extend the detention of an ISA detainee by another two years, whether (a)  on the same  original grounds; (b) on totally different  grounds or (c)  partly on the same grounds and partly on different grounds, he should in all the three circumstances respect the fundamental rights of the detainees concerned to be heard before any  second Ministerial detention order is made. 

The Amnesty International  2003 Annual Report released two days ago, started its chapter on Malaysia with the following indictment: 

“Throughout 2002 the authorities used an array of restrictive laws, including the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for detention without trial, to deny or place unjustified restrictions on fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.” 

If the reformasi six are detained  for another two years, the Amnesty International 2004 Annual Report is likely to lead off with their  renewed detention as proof that Malaysia is completely unprepared to take the quantum leap to become a truly developed nation  by demolishing the Malaysian malaise, “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality”, by giving more  respect and regard for human rights as in the First World. 

It is very sad and pathetic that in the rising  crescendo of calls, both from inside the country and throughout the world, on the government to immediately and unconditionally release the reformasi six, there had been a total lack of concern of the important issue among Barisan Nasional Ministers, leaders and parties – as if they live in a different world of their own where their lives and thinking are completely untouched by questions of human rights and human dignity. 

Isn’t it time for at least a few Barisan Nasional Ministers, leaders and parties to speak up for justice and human rights in the country, by calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the reformasi six?  They should not be so lacking in human rights commitments   that they even  lag behind foreigners in their concern about the human rights situation in Malaysia.  


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman