“The government has the best interests of the people and nation at heart.”
DATUK Seri Najib Razak elaborating on his announcement, on his first day as prime minister, that 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees would be released from the Kamunting detention centre. (Source: Najib: Release of 13 shows we care, New Straits Times, 5 April 2009)
In his 3 April inaugural address, Najib said the decisions were “timely, as we move to enhance the confidence of our citizens in those entrusted with maintaining peace, law and order, while recognising the need to remain vigilant of the very real security threats we continue to face as a young nation.”
The ISA allows for indefinite detention without trial by the government, and has been used against political opponents in the years since it was enacted in 1960.
“We will look at the provisions which can be reviewed and should be amended. The review process may take time because it has long-term implications.”
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, who said the proposed “comprehensive review” of the ISA was to find the best approach to handling the question of national security to maintain public order. (Source: ISA Review To Find Best Approach – Syed Hamid, Bernama, 4 April 2009)
While some quarters are calling on the new premier to abolish the ISA altogether, Najib has said nothing about repealing the ISA.
“I think it is a good move. I don’t know if you remember, but when I became prime minister I released 21 people who were held under ISA. So, I thought if it was good for me, it must be good for Najib too.”
Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when asked what he thought about the release of the 13 ISA detainees. (Source: Najib: Release of ISA detainees done in interest of people, The Star, 5 April 2009)
Mahathir entered office in 1981. Under his administration, 106 individuals were detained under the ISA under Operasi Lalang in 1987.
“Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the time when he became the prime minister did the same thing[,] but what happened after that? The ISA is maintained and tightened and more people were detained in the infamous Operasi Lalang back in 1987.”
Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) president Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, who called Najib’s actions a “sweetening goodwill” gesture designed to accrue votes for the Barisan Nasional (BN) in the three by-elections of Bukit Selambau, Bukit Gantang and Batang Ai. (Source: GMI: ISA release a by-elections tactic, Malaysiakini, 4 April 2009)
Syed Ibrahim maintained that the releases were merely “political collateral” when 40 people remain detained under the ISA. He called for the release of all detainees. Syed Ibrahim also described Najib’s pledge to review the draconian law as mere rhetoric, pointing out that the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) had proposed back in 2003 that the ISA be abolished.