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Friday, December 14, 2007

Five facts on Malaysia's Internal Security Act

Reuters (13/12/2007): Malaysia has invoked its notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain five ethnic Indians from a group that staged a mass anti-government protest last month.

There are currently 74 people, mostly suspected Muslim militants, being detained under the ISA, the government said last month.

Here are five facts on the ISA.

- Passed in 1960, three years after Malaysian independence, the ISA was designed to curb a perceived communist threat. It grew out of emergency regulations that were part of then Malaya's campaign against the Malayan Communist Party in British colonial times. Neighbour Singapore, once part of Malaysia, kept the ISA after leaving the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

- The act allows for the arrest and detention for an indefinite period of a suspect judged as "likely" to commit an act deemed dangerous to national security. Detainees can be held for 60 days without legal counsel, and preventive detention can then be renewed every two years.

- Amended dozens of times, it also has provisions to restrict freedom of assembly, expression and movement, among others. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, it has been used to lock up dozens of suspected Islamic militants. Most ISA detainees are kept at Kamunting prison in northwest Perak state.

- The Human Rights Watch has said governments have consistently used the ISA for their own political purposes to detain thousands of citizens, including political opposition leaders, academics, trade unionists as well as religious, social, environmental and women's rights activists. Rights groups criticise the ISA as a draconian violation of international human rights standards, and a tool to stifle peaceful political dissent.

- In October 2007, opposition figure Abdul Malek Hussin became the first person to win a significant payment for illegal detention under the ISA. He was awarded nearly $750,000 in damages for his Sept 1998 detention, for addressing a "Reformasi" demonstration calling for political reform.


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