ISA detainees protected by the law?

Chee Siok Chin
22 Jun 07

Defending the Internal Security Act (ISA), President Nathan said “there is legislation, there is due process…It’s not something arbitrary.” (See the Straits Times report below.)

No one argues that there is legislative provision for the ISA. But then again the Burmese junta will tell you that there is legislation to put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

The Chinese authorities will also say that there is legislation to curb information flow in China.

Mr. Nathan also says that there is due process. But further down the report he contradicts himself when he questioned the application of due process: “Terrorism is a kind of crime. To prove it is not easy…So when you’re talking about due process, how do you bring these people out? How do you prove it? It’s not something that is so simple.”

So, what is Mr Nathan saying? Is he saying that there is due process, but to use it will prove too risky and long-drawn so we might as well save the trouble and use the ISA instead?

On the Internal Security Department website is a quote by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, justifying the use of this draconian law: “Stability does not come naturally to Singapore. We are peculiarly vulnerable. If our balance of security and stability is shattered, it is doubtful if we on our own can ever put Singapore together again.”

The last line sounds like something he had lifted from a children’s nursery rhyme. But perhaps this is exactly how the PAP government perceives and treats it citizens, as imbeciles.

In March 2002, Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr. Manu Gopala Menon, robustly defended the government’s use of this law when the Asian Legal Resource Centre alleged that the Singapore Government uses the ISA against opposition leaders. This was his response:

“The ALRC has criticized Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) as a tool the Government has used to suppress political opposition and been abused to instil fear, and even torture detainees. These criticisms are unfounded and must be exposed for what they really are – baseless allegations. The ISA is a legacy of the British colonial governance. It is used to counter security threats such as racial and religious extremism, espionage, terrorism and subversion. There are important checks and balances built into the Act to ensure that the ISA is not abused.”

The full text of Mr. Menon’s letter is found here:

Mr. Menon’s claim that the ISA was used against some politicians who resorted to violent means to overthrow the government appears fabricated. Through what violent means did Mr. Chia Thye Poh, Mr. Said Zahari, Mr. Lim Hock Siew, Mr. Lim Chin Siong and Mr. Francis Seow (just to name a few) plan to overthrow the Lee government?

Mr. Menon even went on to say that there are safeguards to prevent any physical assault of detainees. Mr. Francis Seow in his compelling book To Catch A Tartar recounts:

“I was astounded. I then realized that I had been standing in the interrogation room for 16 hours…I recalled with shame that, when my detainee-clients had previously complained to me that they had been forced to stand for as long a 72 hours at a stretch, without sleep, I had great difficulty believing them.”

He also wrote, “I learnt later that Patrick [Seong] and some others were stripped stark naked and sprayed with water to intensify the cold treatment.”

In an interview with the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) of Australia in 1989, Singapore’s longest detainee Mr. Chia Thye Poh said, “…the whole repressive machinery is bearing down on you. First, they try all means to exact confessions – mental and physical torture. After that, they will keep you in jail – solitary – to brainwash you. And if you don’t confess, they will keep you in jail for as long as possible… they call it psychological fatigue, to grind you down and to reduce you to vegetables or irrelevant non-persons .”

Ms Tang Fong Har who was detained for almost two months in 1987 as a “Marxist conspirator” wrote, “During my interrogation, which lasted non-stop for 20 hours, I obviously gave ‘unsatisfactory’ answers. I was slapped in the face, and the impact of the assault sent me rolling on the floor. There was a silence followed by further interrogation. After 20 hours I remember throwing up.”

Ho Piao, secretary of the now banned National Seamen’s Union, who was arrested in Operation Cold Store, told Amnesty International that his torturers had tied him to a wooden chair the whole day, and forced water through his nose and mouth. The ISD officers repeatedly punched and kicked him, including his head. This is how we treat animals, they told him.

Many other documented cases of physical and psychological abuses by ISD agents have been recorded and yet, the Singapore Government denies that ill-treatment and torture are common place during detentions by the ISD.

The use of ISA has destroyed many innocent lives because the power of the PAP has remained unchecked. The onus of demanding for transparency and accountability by this government lies not only on opposition politicians. Civil societies, civic groups and indeed individuals all have their part to play.

There are people out there who may not want to join a political party but at the same time are prodded by their conscience to stand up to injustice. The Singapore Democrats welcome you to contact us to discuss the various avenues one can take to right these wrongs.

President: ISA detainees protected by the law
Keith Lin
The Straits Times
19 Jun 07

President S R Nathan assured Singaporeans yesterday that detainees under the Internal Security Act (ISA) are protected by the law.

Asked by a reporter about the detention of polytechnic lecturer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader – a “self-radicalised” individual influenced by extremist propaganda on the Internet – Mr Nathan said that even in detention, “there is a due process, there is a legislation”.

“The legislation provides what has to be done before you can detain a person and the recourse the person has against it. It’s all there,” he said after touring the Harmony Centre. “It’s not something arbitrary.”

If the ISA Advisory Board recommends the release of a detainee, he cannot be further detained unless the President concurs. Under the Constitution, the President’s concurrence is given in his discretion and not on the Cabinet’s advice.

Since the Government announced the detention of 28-year-old Abdul Basheer two weeks ago, concerns have been raised on the Internet about how he had been detained even though he had not yet committed any physical crime.

At the time of his arrest in February, he had made plans to pursue ‘militant jihad’ in Afghanistan by fighting beside the Taleban.

Mr Nathan pointed out that crime, as understood traditionally, is different today.

He said: “Terrorism is a kind of crime. To prove it is not easy.” He compared the threat of terror to the problems posed by secret societies in the past, where “somebody will bash up somebody and you have no witnesses”.

“So when you’re talking about due process, how do you bring these people out? How do you prove it? It’s not something that is so simple.”

What is important, he said, is for countries in the region, such as Singapore and Malaysia, to understand the nature of terrorism and its impact on society.

Mr Nathan said the efforts of the Harmony Centre – set up in Bishan in October last year to promote a better understanding of Islam and promote inter-faith dialogue – help dispel the ignorant notion some people have that “Islam is made up of terrorists”

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