KUALA LUMPUR, 29 Oct 2008: Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan has urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA).
She said the Bar questioned the wisdom of continuing to have such a repressive piece of legislation on the country’s statute books.
“The ISA was meant to deal with situations which caused ‘a substantial number of citizens to fear organised violence against persons and property’ or those who were intent on procuring ‘the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of the lawful government of Malaysia by law established’.
“One can see how far we have strayed from the original intent of the ISA that a blogger, a politician, a journalist and a civil society organiser can, independently of each other, be seen as threats to national security,” she said in her welcoming address at the 21st LawAsia Conference at the KL Convention Centre here today.
Ambiga said other countries also practised laws that allowed detention without trial to combat terrorism but more people were calling for the repeal of such laws today as they were against their sense of justice and fair play.
She said the Bar agreed that terrorism should be countered but there must be safeguards that protect basic human rights.
Ambiga also said it was important for Asia to move away from the concept that might is right.
“If the majority said black is white, it does not mean black is white. The truth would still be the truth. So, too with human rights.
“It is precisely when the human rights of a few are violated that the government must step in to protect them.
“The true test of a mature democracy and responsible government is how the rights of the minority, the weak and the vulnerable are protected,” said Ambiga.
However, in his speech, the prime minister reiterated that the ISA was needed in the country to ensure peace and justice for all.
Abdullah said as a former Home Minister, he was fully aware of why the law was necessary and he had discharged his responsibilities without fear or favour.
“People talk about rights and freedom, but if their freedom threatens others, some kind of law will have to be enforced,” he said.
On the appointment of the new Chief Justice, Tan Sri Zaki Azmi, Abdullah assured the Malaysian Bar that Zaki was “a man who likes reforms.”
“Zaki is taking various steps to ensure the judiciary functions well,” he said.
When met after the opening ceremony, Ambiga told reporters that the Bar would continue to call for the repeal of ISA.
On Abdullah’s assurance about the new Chief Justice, Ambiga said Zaki deserved a chance to prove himself.
The Malaysian Bar had earlier expressed reservations about Zaki’s appointment. In a press statement released on 17 Oct, Ambiga said concerns about the new Chief Justice can only be dispelled by Zaki “through the conduct of his duties”.