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ATimes: Malaysian ruling boosts fight against security law
By Anil Netto

3/6/2001 7:58 am Sun

[Keputusan oleh Hakim Hishammuddin telah menggemparkan negara khususnya anjing dan tuannya. Mereka kelihatan cuba menterbalikkannya tetapi tidak pula mendapat reaksi peguam negara dan hakim negara yang seperti berkecuali kerana takut terkena diri pula. Ini menimbulkan banyak tanda-tanya dimanakah mereka berpijak sebenarnya?

Polis memerlukan seorang yang kaki putar alam yang berkaliber - soalnya mereka pun was-was juga untuk menghulur kepala. Silap-silap tertebas pula - kan nahas jadinya?
- Editor

Asia Times
2nd June 2001

Malaysian ruling boosts fight against security law

By Anil Netto

PENANG, Malaysia - This week's landmark court ruling that freed two Malaysian activists who had been detained under a harsh security law has galvanized critics seeking its repeal and raised hopes for more independent judgments in the future.

In moments of high drama in court on May 30, High Court Judge Mohammad Hishamudin Yunus in a strongly worded judgment, ordered the two reformasi or reform activists to be released. In making his ruling, Hishamuddin asserted that their arrests by police authorities had been made in bad faith, violated the detainees' constitutional rights, and ignored their procedural rights.

The two activists, N Gobalakrishnan and Abdul Ghani Haroon, were arrested and held in April under the Internal Security Act (ISA), a colonial-era law that allows arrests and detention without warrants. In an unprecedented ruling, Hishamudin also ordered waiting police not to immediately re-arrest the pair, as has happened in the past with detainees under the ISA freed by the courts.

"Those police officers responsible for the detention of the applicants must wake up to the fact that the supreme law of this country is the constitution and not the ISA," said Hishamudin, who even told Parliament that "it is high time" it reconsiders the relevance of the ISA to prevent and minimize abuses of law by the authorities.

Gobalakrishnan and Ghani, youth leaders in the opposition National Justice Party (Keadilan), walked out of court on Wednesday afternoon as free men and were mobbed by some 300 reformasi supporters.

They were among 10 political activists detained in a police swoop that began on April 10 and ended April 26, supposedly to prevent dissidents from organizing anti-government protests in support of former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim. Gobalakrishnan was detained on April 10 and Ghani was picked up the next day.

The court's judgment came 50 days after Gobalakrishnan was arrested. Just three days earlier, on May 27, his wife Vasanthi Ramalingam was allowed her first visit since his arrest. Ghani's family was also allowed to meet him that same day, 46 days after his arrest. It was only on the next day, May 28, that the government-appointed Human Rights Commission of Malaysia was allowed to interview the detainees in the presence of police.

Not allowing detainees' access to family members is cruel, inhuman and oppressive, not only to the those held in custody but also to their family members, observed Hishamudin in his judgment. "What harm would the visits of the family members bring?" he asked, adding that the visits could have been closely monitored. "It is a blatant and gross violation of the detainees' constitutional rights." Hishammudin also ruled that police must give a "reasonable amount of details" to show the grounds for the arrests and not merely parrot legal provisions.

The other eight detained in the April police swoop remain in custody and await Federal Court decisions in mid-June that could determine their fate.

Activists hope the May 30 judgment signals an era of judicial independence after years of controversy following the sacking of Malaysia's top judge along with the suspension of five Supreme Court judges in 1988. A new chief justice was appointed late last year, raising hope of reforms. But analysts had seen few tangible differences until now.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Param Cumaraswamy says the judgment signaled the resurgence of Malaysian judicial independence. "Justice Hishamudin's remarks are what any judge sensitized to international jurisprudence on human rights would have said," he noted.

Human rights groups such as Aliran said the court ruling revives hopes for an end to "an unfortunate tradition of judicial reluctance to challenge the use of draconian legislation and brutal force by a regime that has increasingly set aside the rule of law".

Rights groups and former detainees have alleged that the harsh, relentless interrogation of the detainees, which former ISA detainees have spoken about, often amounts to psychological torture.

Following the judgment, the Malaysian Bar Council reiterated its stand that the ISA should be repealed. "We welcome the judicial observation that neither in the ISA nor in the Constitution is there a provision that access to lawyers would only be given after investigations are completed," said vice chairman Roy Rajasingham in a statement.

Rajasingham welcomed the judge's view that the denial of lawyers violates the detainee's basic right to apply for habeas corpus, a constitutional right. Habeas corpus entitles a detainee to be produced in court when seeking a ruling on the legality of the detention.

Still, it is too early to say that the end is near for the ISA. Apart from the eight still under detention, a few dozen others from previous arrests are said to be still in custody. Already, the police chief is appealing Hishamudin's decision. But for the moment, activists and groups are celebrating what they hope proves to be a turning point in the campaign to repeal the ISA.