Press Statement by Karpal Singh in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, 5th January 2009:

ISA not invoked to punish? 

The statement by Home Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, that the Internal Security Act (ISA) us a preventive law used by the government not to punish detainees by to reform them, is far from the truth. The implementation of the ISA clearly inflicts punishment on the detainees. The punishment is in the form of being confined to barracks which amounts to confinement in large prison. Freedom of movement is restricted. Detainees are indentified by designation of a number. Just as in the case of prisoners found guilty of criminal offences, detainees under the ISA are denied free access to their families. Access by detainees to their families is limited. Syed Hamidís assertion that the ISA aims to reform detainees is hollow. I myself was a detainee under the ISA and there was no programme whatsoever aimed at reformation. The detention was an outright deprivation of liberty and amounted to imprisonment with high walls and strict measures in point of security. The food supplied was no better than that supplied to an ordinary prisoner incarcerated for an offence against the State.

Syed Hamidís assertion that detainees can become Members of Parliament clearly detracts from the right to represent a constituency in the event of being elected as is clearly reflected in the case of Mr. M. Manoharan who was elected on 8th March last year as the State Assemblyman for Kota Alam Shah. He was not even allowed to attend the State Assembly for the purpose of being sworn in. The Speaker of the Selangor Assembly went to Kamunting for the purpose of having Manoharan sworn in. Monoharan is given no right to attend to his constituency. Likewise, in 1978 after Operation Lalang, Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, V. David, P. Patto and myself were deprived of our right as Members of Parliament attend Parliamentary sessions.

Representation without the right to attend to constituents and Parliamentary of State Assembly session is but an empty formality. It deprives constituents to the right of their elected representative to attend to them and represent them in Parliament or the State Assemblies. It is difficult, therefore, to comprehend Syed Hamidís assertion that detainees have the right to contest in elections without the consequent right to attend to them and represent them in Parliament or the State Assemblies.

Confinement of detainees in Kamunting leads to punishment in the form of being deprived of their right to employment and consequently, what follows is the hardship occasioned to their families, often leading to undesirable social consequences. Unlike the common criminal, an ISA detainee who is detained without trial does not have the benefit of parole.

Syed Hamid also asserts that studies by the Government have shown that the majority of Malaysians were in favour of retaining the ISA. I challenge Syed Hamid to publicly reveal the nature of these studies and he conclusions drawn therefrom. Syed Hamid should not mislead the public. The only way to gauge whether there is support for retaining the ISA would be by way of a referendum called for that purpose which the Government ought to hold. The March 8th General Elections last year in which the Opposition campaigned substantially against the retention of the ISA resulted in the Opposition obtaining 82 seats in Parliament and 196 seats in the State Assemblies throughout the country, not to mention five states falling into the hands of the Opposition. Detention without trial cannot be justified. It contravenes the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which Malaysia has yet to ratify. The continued perpetuation of the ISA has, to a considerable extent, driven away foreign investment in our country.

Syed Hamid should not attempt to justify what clearly is beyond justification.

* Karpal Singh, DAP National Chairman & MP for Bukit Gelugor