So who has ‘Misunderstood’ the ISA?

By Farish A. Noor

It is now being claimed by some that the Internal Security Act has been ‘misunderstood’ by a significant section of the Malaysian public, and if only they can be made to ‘understand’ it they would come to realise that it is after all a good tool that ought to be kept in the coffers of the state.

That such a claim can be made today is interesting, for at least it makes the concession that there are enough Malaysians out there who reject the manifold uses and abuses of the ISA so as to warrant the call to have it abolished, or at least so radically revised that it cannot be abused further. However we are left with the question: Who, exactly, has ‘misunderstood’ the ISA? The Malaysian public or the politicians who run the country?

Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves of what the ISA is all about. The ISA document describes exactly the sort of security threat that it is meant to deal with, and it identifies these threats as military and pseudo-military threats to the nation. It regards as dangerous groups that accumulate and distribute arms, uniforms, banners and flags. In short it is a law that was and is designed to deal with para-military and militia threats to the country that may come from underground terrorist groups or hidden armies that have been set up with the purpose of conducting war against the legitimate state of Malaysia.

Over the decades however we have seen countless Malaysian citizens of all walks of life rounded up under the ISA, ostensibly for the sake of public safety and security. Journalists have been detained ‘for their own safety’. Academics, activists, social workers, religious leaders, students and politicians alike have been the victim of this law. It is for this simple reason that the Malaysian public now feels that the interpretation of the ISA law has far exceeded its limit, and that it has been abused for politically instrumental ends.

Proof of this comes in the form of the many Malaysian politicians who today stand as members of Parliament or the various state assemblies of the land, who were themselves victims of the ISA in the past. If indeed these politicians were real threats to national security, would they have been elected by the Malaysian electorate? The fact that they were voted to represent the people means that the people at least do no see them as security threats, so who does?

This brings us back to the question of who exactly has ‘misunderstood’ the ISA. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the Malaysian public wishes to see blood and mayhem in our streets. Most Malaysians would agree that if some nutter wishes to fly a plane into the KLCC complex or plant a bomb in Parliament such a lunatic has to be apprehended immediately in order to save lives.

But what the Malaysian public objects to is when laws such as the ISA are interpreted at whim by politicians who take liberties with its meaning and import, and when laws such as the ISA are used as the most convenient tool to silence the legitimate political opposition in the country.

Furthermore we all know that the ISA remains as an odd colonial relic from the past, which has been discarded or replaced with laws that are more just and humane in many other postcolonial societies. Yet in Malaysia today – a country where moral policing has become normalised and where a woman is about to be whipped for drinking beer – the ISA is but the tip of an iceberg of routine state control and policing that has gone too far.

Malaysians all want a safe and stable country where everyone can live their lives in ease and safety, but perhaps the time has come to reject not merely the laws but rather the abuse of the law that allows for detention without trial for people who have neither armed themselves or formed guerrilla groups to threaten the Malaysian nation-state. Unless and until the powers-that-be understand this simple fact that ought to be evident even to a child, we would argue that it is the ruling elite who have ‘misunderstood’ the ISA and what it is meant to do. And for that reason, one understands why Malaysians from all walks of life now want us to move on from the despotism of the past and to discard such laws that have been abused for so long, too many times.

  1. #1 by ekompute on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 5:06 am

    First, I must admit that with terrorism around the world, we can still keep the ISA. Just like morphine is used for medical emergencies, so also should ISA be allowed for national emergencies. However, those who use the ISA must be fully accountable for their actions as this is a very draconian law. There must be NO immunity whatsoever to those who use the ISA so as to prevent abuse. Whoever had given immunity to those who abuse the ISA is a bastard, so to speak… I won’t name him, he stinks like s.hit. ISA cannot be used against members of registered political parties involved in legitimate political activities so as to prevent any ruling party from trying to destroy its opponents and in the process, democracy. For members of legitimate political parties, appeals can be made up to the International Tribunal as we know that we cannot trust our own courts. Public perception is so low that most of us think that our courts are run by kangaroos, not human beings. Similarly, political parties that are declared illegal can make such an appeal since the ruling party can easily declare the party illegal and therefore block their members’ access to the International Tribunal. Where the International Tribunal finds that the ruling party is using the ISA to destroy its opponents, it will be immediately disqualified from running the government and has to step down. Further, the maximum penalty for the man who abuse the ISA should be the death penalty and nothing less. That will make him think twice, no, no…. 20 times, before using it, unlike the Botak who used it at the drop of a pin. Fair enough? Let ISA remain but with safeguards as tight as operating a nuclear power plant.

  2. #2 by HJ Angus on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 5:15 am

    The ISA in the hands of callous leaders has become a “I SUPPRESS ALL” piece of legislation and the government has taken too long to make amends – even the last PM recently voiced his support to amend the ISA quickly.

    To me the ISA may be necessary in the age of global terrorism but the following clauses could be added:

    1.Any abuse of this authority under the law by any minister or police officer as determined by the court will be subject to the prescribed penalties.
    2.No detainee will be subjected to torture or unlawful means to extract information.
    3.Maximun period for detention will be 30 days, after which only a court can extend the period for another 30 days with adequate grounds.
    4.Detaineee must be allowed to seek legal counsel within 3 days of being held.
    5.A family member or relative will be allowed to visit detainee within 24 hours of detention for perhaps 2 hours each day.

    Of course such details will not make the ISA perfect but I am sure with more checks and balances, it could improve the overall piece of legislature. At the moment it has become an unjust law in the hands of unjust men.

  3. #3 by ekompute on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 5:15 am

    “Proof of this comes in the form of the many Malaysian politicians who today stand as members of Parliament or the various state assemblies of the land, who were themselves victims of the ISA in the past. If indeed these politicians were real threats to national security, would they have been elected by the Malaysian electorate?”

    Well, well… those who were arrested under ISA, they were real threats… very real threats, not to national security, but to BN. So that should be reason enough to take it away from them, as you would, a box of matches from a three-year old boy. Maybe we ought to modify our so-called Westminster model to allow the opposition to play a more active role, like putting the Anti-Corruption Department and even the ISA under them. Or at least, they must be equally involved in running these 2 departments. In this way, there will be more effective checks and measures that are built into the system.

  4. #4 by ekompute on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 5:52 am

    We know that BN has been abusing the ISA all these while. To expect a proper review by them is like expecting a criminal to be able to review the Criminal Code.

  5. #5 by frankyapp on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 6:59 am

    Who exactly has “misunderstood” the ISA ?.The malaysian public or the politicians who run the country……Farish Noor. I think no body has misunderstood the ISA. The politicians who run the country deliberately misused the ISA against its opponents mainly to protect its own interest.Whenever the regime interest is at stake,they would drum up the issue to make it extremely dense to warrant using the ISA to arrest and detain its opponents. Most if not all of those arrrests were in fact have no connection to terrorism or any eminence threat to the country.How would a dozen or two active patriotic opposition leaders with only bare hands could have any eminence threat to the nation ?.Besides the regime in power has several other laws available to enforce instead of the ISA.Hence any used of the ISA by the regime in power against its own loyal citizens is considered debious and illegitimate. The ISA should be erased once and for all.

  6. #6 by hadi on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 8:21 am

    Whatever being said and no matter how the issue is being argued, ISA must be abolished. This piece of relic is prone to be abused by people in power. Never trust another human being fully and only in GOD we trust.

  7. #7 by blablowbla on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 9:10 am

    it’s not the ISA’s fault,it’s the powers-that-be ministers who abuse it at their whims and fancies!

    just like the MACC officers think that they can kill ppl without ‘license to kill’,so,with ISA or without ISA,with ‘license to kill’ or without ‘license to kill’,they still can kill ppl without a sense of shame,and most shameful is,their leaders and bosses are protecting them!

    one wonders why the the group of MACC officers whom interrogated TBH were not held for body inspections immediately,their dirty hands or arms might be hurt during the murder,if i were TBH,i will makesure that at least i will pull one MACC officer to fall down together!Instead,they were merely transfered to other division,still can carry-on their ‘duty’ as MACC officers,my my,ohhhhh,my,my,what the fcuk the police are doing???

    yes,they will drag n keep on draggng,untill all evidents are destroyed,then thy will say:lack of evident,case dropped!MACC is innocent!

  8. #8 by chengho on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 9:11 am

    Malaysia need ISA…….

  9. #9 by taiking on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 9:51 am

    Yes indeed with people (including unborned ones) getting seefoured to bits; and with people being murdered under the noses of the the world’s best anti-corruption body the macc, malaysia needs isa!

  10. #10 by newchief on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 10:30 am

    ISA should be maintained – IN WORDINGS ONLY!!!

    everyone misundestand the word – INTERNAL SECURITY ACT. yes, this acts empowers the government to abuse this act at their wishes .

    let’s say you go against the government’s policies or decisions and wanting to protest, the government will fear not that you will steer up troubles but FEAR that it will fall and that is when, ISA comes in to PROTECT the government from falling !!! that’s INTERNAL,right???

    this act should be abolished LONG LONG TIME AGO after the communists had surrendered but because bn has ISA, they decide to let it stay SO THAT THEY STAY ON TOO.

    ONLY a person who is rude,harsh and has no human heart will charge someone to ISA WITHOUT A FAIR TRAIL…even criminals are given a chance to defend but not for those who go against bn.

    however, the malaysian rule of law is very different….its actually bn rule of law or should i say, ringgit and power rule of law until even judges can and has to make ridiculous judgements on the victims.

    unless someone can ask for external help to educate the malaysian laws again, we feel we are not much worse than as been ruled just like under the fuedal system of world past history.

  11. #11 by ekompute on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 10:53 am

    blablowbla is really blablowbla! He says: “if i were TBH, i will make sure that at least i will pull one MACC officer to fall down together!”

    Read this article, “Was Teoh Beng Hock killed upstairs rather than downstairs? ” by Malaysia Today at

    Then you can pull one of the officers down as well, LOL.

  12. #12 by OrangRojak on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 11:08 am

    I think it’s reasonable to have Emergency Legislation to deal with Periods of Emergency. But why keep spraying when the fire has gone out? Repeal it. If there’s an Emergency, enact it again. I imagine it’s fairly simple, in times of Emergency, to pass an Emergency Law?

  13. #13 by rabbit on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 12:37 pm

    miss use or abuse is very normal in malaysia. ISA can use by any one in the force.. i think the bagger from pudu raya also can active it. ha ha ha.. well guys just be more careful what you write in here, maybe you r in monitor. ISA can apply to anyone even you throw waste tisu paper on the streets

  14. #14 by taiking on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 12:41 pm

    The isa has been misunderstood? Yeah that is of course true. The Brits passed it during the Emergency for a very specific purpose i.e. to deal with the emergency situation of the day. That situation is now long gone and so applying the isa today must ipso facto involve misreading the Act in large doses.

    Only umno alone, given all the backup and suppport it gets from the police, the AG and the judiciary, can elect to misread the Act both generously and intentionally.

    Didnt najib announce that the isa would be amended substantially? And what is this talk of the isa being misunderstood? Is najib paving for himself a way astern on that announcement?

  15. #15 by siamo on Saturday, 1 August 2009 - 1:44 pm

    There is the report that Gerakan was unable to submit their memorandum due to slip in protocol. And therefore they will not be participating in the rally.

    What a good show Gerakan has put up to show that they are against the ISA but cannot join the rally, so as not to antagonise UMNO! Very good at pretending! So, is Gerakan sincere or not in wanting to rid of ISA?

  16. #16 by blablowbla on Sunday, 2 August 2009 - 11:01 am

    my statement of pulling down an MACC officer was based on assumption that TBH fell down from 14th floor,similarly,if he wasnt,like somebody claimed that he was actually killed on the 5th or 9th floor,later brought it down to the place he was lying…..also base on assumtion,what are you laughing at?

    dont make your self like VIP here,i mean,Very Idiot Person!

  17. #17 by SpeakUp on Sunday, 2 August 2009 - 7:02 pm

    I still say maintain the ISA but like many have noted, it needs to be used only when necessary.Those who call for its abolishment are only doing so because they are tree huggers or politicians who want to use the mileage.

    ISA has been too well abused of late and that is a fact. BUT how does one deal with a terrorist? Anti-Terrorism Act? The how does one deal with say a Religious Nut Case? Anti Religious Nut Case Act?

    What is important is that ISA is never used for political mileage. Whether to lock up a dissenting voice or its abolishment be called to gain popularity.

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