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Bar Council slams ISA arrests, sets up legal aid team to help detainees

Kuala Lumpur, 13 Sept 2008: The Bar Council criticised the three detentions under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on 12 Sept as inappropriate and unnecessary, and has set up a legal team to provide immediate legal aid to those detained.

Bar Council chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the council has always opposed the use of the ISA and called on the government to review its decision.

She said there are sufficient legal provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Penal Code for the police to conduct investigations without the need to use the ISA.

"The Bar Council has set up a team of 25 lawyers throughout the country to respond immediately to any call for help involving those detained under the ISA," she told a press conference at the Bar Council after its monthly meeting on 13 Sept.

Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamarudin, Seputeh member of parliament Teresa Kok and Sin Chiew Daily News reporter Tan Hoon Cheng were arrested under the ISA on 12 Sept.

In a Bernama report on 12 Sept, Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the arrest of Raja Petra, 58, was under Section 731 of the Act.

He said Raja Petra was detained after it was ascertained that he could disrupt and threaten security and public order.

Raja Petra reportedly incited Muslims with a commentary on the article "I promise to be a good, non-hypocritical Muslim" – published in Malaysia Today – which contained sentences that allegedly ridiculed Muslims, and allowed a commentary that allegedly ridiculed Islam and Prophet Muhammad, with reference to the article "Not all Arabs are descendants of the Prophet".

Section 731 of the ISA permits the detention of an individual for up to 60 days. After that, the minister can decide to extend the detention without trial for two years.

According to news reports, Tan was detained in Penang over her report on former Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s alleged racist remarks while campaigning for the Permatang Pauh by-election in August.

Reports also said Kok was picked up by the police in Kinrara, Selangor, in connection with concerns about a mosque.

The arrests came on the heels of the ministry’s move to issue show-cause letters to three newspapers — theSun, Sin Chew Daily and Suara Keadilan – on 11 Sept, in connection with their articles on recent political developments.

The ministry’s Publications and Quranic Text Control Division secretary, Che Din Yusof, said the letter was issued to theSun for allegedly manipulating and playing up sensitive issues.

Sin Chew Daily was given the show-cause letter for its reports on Ahmad’s remarks and
Suara Keadilan, a fortnightly newspaper belonging to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, was issued the letter for its report which quoted sources as saying that the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan is paralysed following a coronary bypass surgery.

The publications have a week to respond to the show-cause letters.

Ambiga said the arrests and the show-cause letters were among the issues discussed at the Bar Council’s meeting and that the council would discuss the next course of action at an extraordinary general meeting on 20 Sept.

In a press statement, the Bar Council said, "The use of the ISA, far from relieving any perceived tension, has instead created far more uneasiness and unhappiness amongst right-thinking people in Malaysia"

It said that if Raja Petra, Kok and Tan were really hauled in for investigations on the issues mentioned by the authorities, there was no need to hold them under the ISA.

"We have sufficient provisions in the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code that allow for police investigation in these instances, such as Sections 504 and 505 of the Penal Code," it said.

"We have said it before and we will say it again – if there are perceived offences, charge these people and give them their fundamental right to defend themselves."

Asked if there was concern that members of the Bar Council could also be arrested under the ISA, as there has been speculation that there could more arrests, Ambiga and the other council members, including past chairpersons, laughed. She said she was not aware of any council member who would be arrested.

However, she added: "Any threat of the ISA will not stop and has not stopped the Malaysian Bar from doing and saying the right thing."

She said the Malaysian Bar has a responsibility to uphold justice and the public’s interest.

The Bar Council’s public forum on "Conversion to Islam" on 9 Aug was disrupted after several groups and politicians protested and said the forum would undermine Islam.

The Bar Council also noted in the press statement that Malaysia sits on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and the government has made pledges in order to be elected to this UN council in 2006.

It said these pledges include upholding "the promotion and protection of all human rights" and the "promotion of a free media, including in cyberspace, as well as the encouragement of vibrant and active civil societies".

"As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it is therefore incumbent upon the government of Malaysia to uphold these pledges," it said.

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