Lawyers are standing united in demanding that the Internal Security Act (ISA) be repealed — in Malaysia, that is. Singapore? Our Law Society is still waiting for the Government’s invitation.
The Malaysian Bar Council (MBC) held an emergency extraordinary general meeting last Saturday to denounce, among other things, the archaic and draconian ISA. A massive turnout of 700 lawyers attended the closed-door meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
MBC’s President Sreenivasan Ambiga said the challenge is to expose the far-reaching impact and consequences that the ISA have on society at large.
“It’s all about the prevention-detention legislation,” Ms Ambiga emphasized. She was a panelist in the Rule of Law Symposium during the International Bar Association’s annual conference held in Singapore in Oct 07.
The Malaysian lawyers said that it was not the first time the Council had spoken up against the Act and vowed that it will not be the last until the law is abolished.
“What we’re looking for is a situation which minimizes the abuse of power,” the MBC president stressed. “Unfortunately, the ISA and other such prevention-detention legislation allow for unchecked abuses of power.”
It is unfortunate that both the Singaporean and Malaysian governments insist on retaining the ISA, a legacy from British colonialism.
But what is even more tragic is that while the Malaysian lawyers are honouring their duty to be the guardians of justice, the Law Society of Singapore (LSS) is dead silent on this matter even though its stated mission is to “protect and assist the public in all matters relating to law.”
This was not always the case. Mr Francis Seow, former president of the Society, was a strong advocate for the people’s rights. In 1987, he had objected to a proposed bill that allowed the Government to control foreign newspapers.
The PAP Government put him under ISA detention, removed him as president and then amended the Legal Profession Act barring the Society from commenting on any legislation unless invited to do so.
Since then the LSS has become voiceless and opinion-less like much of the rest of general society, terrified of speaking truth to power.
When one of its members Mr Chia Ti Lik wrote to the Society on behalf of himself and 17 other activists who were charged with taking part in the Tak Boleh Tahan protest outside Parliament House earlier this year, its president, Mr Michael Hwang, said that the organisation had “no views” on the matter.
Although there is no restriction on the Society to weigh in on the selective application of the law, such as allowing the Consumer Association of Singapore to conduct a protest while prosecuting the TBT activists for doing the same, the LSS cringes from speaking up.
We can only look forward to the day our Singaporean lawyers would be courageous enough to do what they swore to uphold, that is, to defend the cause of justice without fear or favor.
In the meantime, we must be satisfied with the only thing it has in common with its Malaysian counterpart which is to organise the annual Bench and Bar Games between the two countries.