Earlier this week, former ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung called ISA detentions grievously wrong as the government can detain them for long periods without charging them in open court. Soh Lung called upon the Government to either release all 18 prisoners immediately or charge them in open court.She felt that it was unfair that detainees are not allowed to explain his case in front of a minister.
As a matter of fact, the law minister or the judge would not even see someone going to the gallows.
Currently, there are about 20 detainees imprisoned under the ISA all for terrorism. There is another law called the Criminal Law (Temporary Provision) that allows the government to detain hardcore criminals, druglords and gangsters for long periods without open trials. In 2010, there were close to 200 persons incarcerated under CLTP and that figure has not significantly decreased. Indeed, it's a pity that no one is campaigning for their rights.
If we all agree that nobody is guilty unless proven to be so in open court, a basic right that so many hold so dear, why are so many fine with locking people and "throwing away the key" and in agreement that such individuals should be kept away from mainstream society? Just look at average Singaporeans like singaporegirl and uncledicko.
One of the possible reasons behind detention without trial is the compromise of our safe streets and stability of society should there be an absence of such deterrence. Recently, Malaysia repealed their version of CLTP called the Emergency Ordinance much to the delight of many. But others are lamenting that street crimes are getting more violent and vicious and some of these could have been caused by the released detainees.
Why are ISA detainees not charged in open court? MHA provides the following reasons:
• The identity of witnesses may be exposed and they may be put in danger.
• Secret sources of intelligence or undercover investigations may be exposed.
• Relationships with other countries may be affected (in spy cases).
• Racial and religious feelings may be provoked in a prolonged trial.
The reasons behind detentions under the CLTP are similar. In addition, there is likely to be difficulties in gathering sufficient evidence for a conviction as intelligent criminals hide their tracks well and are capable of getting good lawyers. Yet still another reason is that much of the 'evidence' are actually communications interceptions which cannot be produced in open court. Indeed, we have seen many times how some individuals are totally different in public and in private, like Ming Yi, Kong Hee etc.
Is detention at Whitley Rd same as Guantanamo Bay?
We all know about the horrors of Guantanamo where suspected terrorists are treated inhumanely, tortured and humilated. But is secret detention at Guantanamo same as Whitley Rd as the author of Beyond The Blue Gate claims? Reading her book, one could say that it was deplorable but not as intense as Guantanamo.
Currently, detainees who are tortured can raise this matter during routine visits by their family members and lawyers just as they would in a normal prison. In addition, there are medical checkups and unannounced visits by Justices of Peace at the detention centre.
Indeed, Soh Lung is right to say that family members of the detainees are suffering as their loved ones are being locked away. With the internet these days, it's easy for aggreived family members to reach out to the public. Perhaps, the Malay community and relgiious teachers are doing a good job supporting them financially and emotionally during this period. We wait to hear their side of the story.
Most of those detained under the ISA in 2001 and 2002 have been released from detention. We awit their stories and accounts as well. Meanwhile, I will leave you with Soh Lung's recent emotional note in her FB where I am sure the shadows of Whitley Rd still haunt her:
To be imprisoned under our Internal Security Act (ISA) is often to be forgotten. Unlike a prison sentence ordered by a judge in open court, an order for detention signed by the Minister for Home Affairs means indefinite detention. When a judge orders a convicted person to two years’ imprisonment, that person knows that he will be released at the end of the two years. If he behaves well in prison, his sentence will be reduced by one third. A person ordered to be imprisoned under the ISA for two years can be imprisoned for decades. Cabinet ministers seal his fate in secret. No reason or evidence needs to be disclosed. He is never given a chance to appear before any minister to explain his case. At the expiry of his detention order, he can be served with another order.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush addressing a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001 said: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sfNROmn7bc)
Arrests of alleged terrorists commenced soon after and many were thrown into Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba where the US government could ignore the rules governing prisoners of war and ill treat them as it wished. Today, we read of unlawful arrests, torture and deaths in Guantanamo detention camp. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 168 of these prisoners remain in prison as at July 2012.
Singapore is a friend of America and paid great attention to the warning of Bush. In December 2001, she too started to arrest alleged terrorists. Fourteen with alleged links to Jemaah Islamiyah, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other alleged terrorist organisations were arrested under our ISA. In subsequent years, more were arrested. By June 2011, the ISD had arrested and imprisoned at least 80 people under the ISA.
It is easy to forget the people arrested because we do not know them personally. We do not have human rights organisations which constantly monitor and remind us of their detention. From my record (I stand to be corrected as I do not have the privilege of examining ISD files) 18 people are still in prison. Below are the names and date of arrests. (Again I stand to be corrected).
1 Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Maidin Dec 2001
2 Mohamad Anuar bin Margono Dec 2001
3 Alahuddeen bin Abdullah Jan 2002
4 Mohd Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan Dec 2002
5 Mohd Jauhari bin Abdullah 16 Aug 2002
6 Nahurudin bin Sabtu 16 Aug 2002
7 Nordin bin Parman 16 Aug 2002
8 Syed Ibrahim 16 Aug 2002
9 Jahpar bin Osman Dec 200310 Mohamed Rashid bin Zainal Abidin Dec 200311 Marksham bin Mohd Shah Dec 200612 Rijal Yadri bin Jumari Feb 200813 Mohd Azmi bin Ali Nov 200914 Mas Selamat bin Kastari 1 Apr 2009 (Arrested in Dec 2003 and reported to have escaped on 27 Feb 2008).
15 Muhammad Fadil bin Abdul Hamid Apr 2010
16 Jumari bin Kamdi Dec 2010
17 Abdul Majid s/o Kunji Mohammad May 2011
18 Samad bin Subari June 2011
In a month’s time, 8 of the 18 prisoners would have served more than ten years in prison without trial. I am reminded of ISA prisoners arrested in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them were imprisoned for decades. They were forgotten by Singaporeans. The ministers renewed their detention orders again and again. I doubt their conscience was ever pricked.
Today, the United Nations, International Red Cross, newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian have interviewed released prisoners and informed the world of the torture and injustice they have suffered. Human rights lawyers have challenged the US government in court with regard to many of the Guantanamo prisoners. Conditions in the camp have been subjected to international scrutiny. Guantanamo has become an embarrassment and President Obama had promised to close it down. He has not been successful yet. In Singapore, however, our government has not been subjected to any form of scrutiny. Our Law Society of Singapore have not called for the release of the prisoners.
Like ISA prisoners in past decades, it is easy to forget these 18 prisoners for we do not know them. It is however grievously wrong for our government to detain them for so long without charging them in court. As a concerned citizen, I call upon the Government to either release all 18 prisoners immediately or charge them in open court. For every one of these 18 prisoners, there are many family members suffering with them. They may be sole breadwinners and it is wrong to deprive their families of their support.