Laman Webantu   KM2A1: 5204 File Size: 6.2 Kb *

Asiaweek: Tightening The Screws [Justice ISA]
By Sangwon Suh

11/8/2001 5:56 pm Sat

[Jangan lekas gembira dengan kebangkitan hakim kini kerana Mahathir pernah membunuh institusi kehakiman negara bila sudah tidak tertahan. Kini Mahathir merombak beberapa syarikat dengan meletak tokoh ekonomi baru agar pelabur kembali ke pasaran. Inilah Mahathir yang sama yang mengambil Anwar sehingga ramai terpedaya dan memberi undi kepada Umno. Tetapi bila kepentingan anak-anak dan dirinya terjejas, Mahathir memecat dan mengaibkan semua tokoh-tokoh itu dengan begitu terancang sekali. Hakim Dzaidin perlu berhati-hati kerana Mahathir baru memberi kereta baru yang amat mewah buat Agung tempoh hari...
- Editor

AUGUST 17, 2001

Tightening the Screws

The Malaysian government has long been accused of using the Internal Security Act to silence political opponents. A court ruling last week struck a blow against that strategy, but the battle has just begun


The trial of the century it wasn't. But the main courtroom of the Federal Court in downtown Kuala Lumpur nonetheless overflowed with lawyers and spectators. The case involved the habeas corpus application of six opposition activists being held by police under the Internal Security Act. A draconian piece of legislation left over from colonial times, the ISA allows for detention without trial for up to two years. After briefly consulting with four other judges in the panel, chief justice Dzaiddin Abdullah gave his ruling: The onus was on the state to produce evidence that showed the six defendants were indeed threatening national security, as the government claimed. The court was then adjourned for a month to give the government some time to prepare its case.

In most other countries, the Aug. 6 ruling might have been seen as a minor legal development of no interest to the general public. In Malaysia, it was viewed as a small landmark, a crucial victory for judicial independence. The government has long been accused of using the ISA, originally intended for communist insurgents, against political opponents. Yet here was the court pulling it back and demanding that it legally justify its action. In essence, the judgment put the ISA, and the way it was being used, on trial. "The tide seems to be turning in the courts," says Param Cumarasamy, a U.N. rapporteur and former president of the Malaysian Bar Council. "The judiciary has been trying to reassert its independence since Dzaiddin was appointed chief justice last year."

The court's decision comes at a time when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad - who, at 75, has spent 20 years in office and is approaching the twilight of his political career - is battling to save his legacy. In the wake of the contentious Anwar Ibrahim saga, Mahathir has lost much of the support of Malay-Muslims, many of whom have switched to the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pas). The economy has taken a turn for the worse, with GDP growth expected to be just 1.5% this year, compared to 8.5% in 2000. As if to make a pre-emptive strike against those who might act as party-poopers on Mahathir's final victory lap, the police have been cracking down on people linked with the opposition. But Dzaiddin's ruling, in addition to striking a blow for judicial independence, limits Mahathir's ability to wield the ISA in his final days as prime minister.

For the opposition, the judgment came none too soon. Just a few days before, the police had arrested 10 people under the ISA on grounds of plotting to overthrow the government by force. Most of the detainees were young members of Pas. The conservative Islamic party has been on the ascendant in recent years and controls the states of Kelantan and Trengganu. The arrested men - who included Nik Adli, a son of Pas leader and Kelantan chief minister Nik Aziz Nik Mat - were allegedly part of a well-armed extremist group called Kumpulan Mujahidin. Members of the organization, the authorities claimed, had received military training in Afghanistan and were allegedly responsible for a spate of crimes, including the murder of an Indian politician and the bombings of a church and a Hindu temple. The group was also supposedly engaged in a "holy war" against the state.

Pas wasn't the only opposition party targeted by the government. The six men whose case Dzaiddin heard were among 10 members of Keadilan who were detained under the ISA in April. They were accused of making bombs and plotting to oust the government through violence. Fellow oppositionist Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party denounced the arrests: "If the government has strong, credible evidence it should present it in a proper court of law rather than have . . . the detainees locked up indefinitely without charges or an opportunity to defend themselves in a free trial."

Now Lim is getting his wish. Even before the Aug. 6 decision, the other four Keadilan arrestees had already been released. When freeing two of them by court order, judge Hishamuddin Yunus said the police had "failed to produce evidence to substantiate allegations" of conpiracy against the government.

Suhakam, a local human rights group, recently released a report in which it urged the government "to respond to the changing political climate and changing aspirations of the society." Certainly, the latest ruling suggests change is in the air. But those anticipating a Kuala Lumpur Spring might do well to cast their minds back to 1988. That was the last time the courts tried to assert their independence - and they were promptly cut down to size in a crackdown that saw the sackings of the chief justice and five other judges.