By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
SINGAPORE, Singapore – Despite urging from human rights groups, Singapore is refusing to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for individuals to be detained without a trial.
Curiosity about the nation’s plans for the act is due, in part, to Malaysia’s recent decision to abolish two of their security regulations. On September 15, Malaysia announced that it would abolish not only the Emergency Ordinance but their version of the Internal Security Act as well. Similar to the act currently in place in Singapore, both acts allowed citizens to be detained without a trial.
Despite Malaysia’s decision; however, Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry has stated that the ISA continues to be relevant and crucial in the realm of national security. In announcing the decision to not follow in Malaysia’s footsteps, the Home Affairs Ministry notated various differences that exist in the two nations.
One such difference is the holding period required under both forms of the ISA. In Malaysia, detainees could remain in custody for up to sixty days while Singapore only allows detainees to be held for thirty days before the individual is required to be released unconditionally unless a Detention Order is issued.
The ministry also claimed that the ISA has never been used to detain somebody based solely on their political beliefs and has instead only been used to combat threats of subversion, espionage, terrorism and religious extremism.
While some scholars believe that there is a need for the ISA, other groups as well as sixteen individuals who were formerly detained under the ISA are pushing for its abolition.
One proponent of the ISA, Dr. Rohan Gunaratana from the International Center for Political Violence and Research stated, “…ISA is [a] valuable tool to preventively detain terrorist suspects to investigate and also confine them.”
In contrast, sixteen former detainees held under the ISA state that “[t]his law has been in existence for more than half a century and its impact on society is both crippling and pernicious.”
One of the detainees is Chia Thye Poh who spent 26 years in detention and was one of the world’s longest held political prisoners along with Nelson Mandela. Chia was detained in the 1960’s after being accused of being a Communist subversive.
Seven of the others former detainees were detained for an alleged Marxist conspiracy against the government of Singapore in 1987.
The Singapore government maintains that the sixteen former political prisoners were detained for their involvement in activities that threatened national security and not because of their political beliefs.
The ISA was initially enacted by British authorities to fight the Communist insurgency after World War II. While the ISA was generally used between the 1960’s and 1980’s to contain those believed to be causing racial and religious disharmony, it was primarily used to combat terrorism following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
For more information, please see:
Channel News Asia – MHA Says ISA Remains Relevent & Necessary – 23 September 2011
AFP – Ex-Prisoners Urge Singapore to Scrap Security Law – 19 September 2011
My Sinchew – Will Singapore Bow to Pressure to put an End to ISA? – 19 September 2011
Today – Selling Singaporeans on the ISA – 19 September 2011
Channel News Asia – ISA Relevant to S’pore, Crucial for National Security: MHA – 16 September 2011