I refer to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s statement in the Dewan Rakyat today that the two new laws intended to replace the ISA will ” provide a balance between civil liberties and safeguarding public order.”

This is a hollow and misleading statement designed to persuade the people of this country that detention without trial is necessary, and that their fundamental freedoms will be protected. It is important to remember that under the new ISA replacement laws, preventive detention will be allowed for both terrorism and public order threats.

The PM in his September 15 speech cited the United States and United Kingdom as examples of countries allowing preventive detention. This was frankly dishonest of the Prime Minister. In contrast with Najib’s proposed new laws, the US and UK do not allow preventive detention on public order grounds; both countries allow very limited preventive detention in suspected terrorism cases only.

In the US only non-citizens can be held without trial as in the case of the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States constitution absolutely prohibits security-related preventive detention. As such Najib’s new preventive detention law on public order grounds has no parallel in countries like the US, UK, Australia or Canada. It is aberrant in a democracy and anathema to the rule of law.

 

Very limited

As regards terrorism laws, it should be noted that the UK, Australia and Canada anti-terrorism provisions are extremely limited. In Australia, detention is only allowed in the case of an ” imminent terrorist act” and limited to 14 days.

Anti-terrorist laws in the UK allow up to 14 days detention, whereas Canada allowed preventive detention only for 72 hours. Even these limited preventive laws have come under severe criticism in the respective countries.

The trend in the West is to progressively reduce preventive detention powers. There has been no preventive detention law in Canada since 2007, when the Canadian parliament acted on principle and refused to renew it. In the UK, the previous detention limit of 28 days was reduced to 14 days earlier this year.

In short, there are no ISA-like anti-terrorist laws existing in advanced Western countries post- 9/11. This is a deliberately distorted picture advanced by many BN leaders, including the Prime Minister in his September 15 speech, in order to justify the continued existence of detention without trial laws in Malaysia.

Trying to justify detention without trial on public order grounds, by vague and inaccurate references to terrorism laws in the West is unprincipled and unbecoming in a sitting Prime Minister. In any case, the terrorism threat can be combated by tightening existing penal laws that target terrorism related activities, and by good police and intelligence work.

The PM and his Cabinet must urgently reverse the government’s intention to replace the ISA with two new preventive detention laws and repeal Article 149 of the Federal Constitution. All laws passed by our nation’s Parliament must be consistent with the rule of law and and international legal norms.