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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don't replicate ISA, says professors' council

The new laws to replace the Internal Security Act (ISA) must not replicate the spirit or practices carried out under the much-maligned law, senior academicians said today.

NONEProf Nik Ahmad Kamal (right), who heads the governance, law and public management cluster under the National Professors Council (MPN), called on the government to balance its right to preserve national security with the rights of individuals.

The proposed laws to replace the ISA should be more flexible than the Patriot Act of the United States and Britain's Anti-Terrorism Act, Nik Ahmas said.

"We would like to see laws dealing with internal security and public order that do not emulate the US or UK laws, which are very strict regarding the confinement of individuals.

"The laws also should not emulate the ISA," Nik Ahmad told a press conference.

MPN says it represents 1,600 professors from institutions of higher learning throughout the country, and plays a public advocacy role to "strengthen the formulation of government policies and the implementation of programmes."

Nik Ahmad pointed out that while the ISA has been used on individuals beyond its original objective of containing communist and terrorist threats, the Patriot Act provides such comprehensive powers to the executive that it is harsher than the ISA.

He agreed that while laws should be comprehensive, it is vital that they are specific, especially in cases where detention without trial is concerned.

Individual rights a priority

A member of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia's (UIAM) law faculty, Nik Ahmad also called on the government to seriously study any move to include detention without trial in the two new laws, as this was the very reason for so much opposition to the ISA.

He acknowledged that detention without trial is allowed under Section 149 of the Federal Constitution, but stressed that it should not mean the government could detain people at its pleasure.

"If you ask lawyers or anyone who studied law, we would say no to detention without trial because it goes against the basic principles of rule of law and basic rights (of individuals).

"But the government may say that detention without trial is necessary to maintain internal security. If it is needed, make sure it is not as harsh as the ISA," he said, while pointing out that this was the view of the cluster he heads and not the NPC as a whole.

Nik Ahmad said the new laws must also curb the wide powers granted to the home minister under the ISA, tempering it with provisions to allow any detention to be challenged in a court of law - something that is virtually impossible under the current Act.

He added that his cluster suggested that the detention period should not exceed 21 days, and that detainees are granted the right to legal representation.

"Of course, this is at the discretion of Parliament when formulating the law, but we are of the opinion that the detention period should not be more than the remand period provided for under existing laws.

"We also hope the government will invite us to give our input at the drafting stage of the law. We are ready to offer our views and be part of the committee that will formulate the laws," he said.

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