Tuesday Nov 12 2002

Malaysia keeps security act intact

By John Burton in Singapore

Malaysia plans to curb a judicial review of its controversial Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows the pre-emptive detention of suspects.
The move is an attempt to keep state security matters outside the jurisdiction of the courts and has been criticised by civil rights activists. They claim the government is using the "war on terror" to cloak a crackdown on opposition parties.
The proposed tightening of the ISA is a response to a decision in September by the nation's highest court. It ruled that judges had the right to examine the reasons for preventive detention under the ISA, which allows suspects to be held indefinitely without trial.
It found the detention of five political activists affiliated to an opposition party set up by Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed former deputy prime minister, was unlawful.
The Malaysian judiciary had previously been criticised for failing to challenge the government on the ISA, which has been used to detain political opponents of Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister.
However, Rais Yatim, law affairs minister, said the government's move was made necessary after a court at the weekend ordered the release of a suspected member of Jemaah Islamiah, the terrorist group blamed for the recent bombing in Bali.
Mr Rais said the court order to release Nasharuddin Nasir, the JI suspect, was the start of a dangerous trend and blamed the September ruling by the federal court. National security was the prerogative of the executive, not the judiciary, a stance that had been previously supported by the courts, Mr Rais said.
Despite the court ruling, Mr Nasharuddin was re-arrested by police only 10 minutes after his release, when he was presented with a new two-year detention order signed by the deputy prime minister.
Opposition politicians criticised the renewed detention as illegal. "The issue at stake is not whether one is for or against terrorism, but whether one is for or against the rule of law," said Lim Kit Siang, head of the Democratic Action party.
The five supporters of Mr Ibrahim, who have been described as political prisoners by the US, also remain in custody.