Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Anti-ISA VS Anti-Terrorism

Anti-ISA VS Anti-Terrorism

Someone queries about my stand on Internal Security Act or rather, the Internal Security Department. I am fundamentally against detention without trial indefinitely. If the department needs time to gather evidence to make out a case against an individual, then it would mean that it does not have enough evidence to detain anyone. And to detain someone for two decades is totally unjustifiable. It would mean either the ISD is totally ineffective and inefficient to gather the necessary evidences to put up a case against the detainee for the twenty years or so, or that the ISA has been abused to deny a human being his right to freedom for no good reasons.

However, there are times when authority needs to detain certain suspects to prevent them to cause harm to the Nation or innocent citizens, though they have insufficient information or evidence against him. But this does not mean that ISD could detain anyone at its fancy. There must be strict rules and requirement to be adhered to. To detain someone who merely pose a legitimate political threat to the ruling party is totally unacceptable. Unless the authority could justify that this individual is involved in terrorism that would harm the innocent citizens unconstitutionally.

The intention to give the relevant authority the power to detain an individual without trial longer than the normal legal allowance is to give them more time to investigate, not for any other reasons. There are worries that some may receive light sentences if they are being charged under the present laws. This could be resolved by passing special laws on Anti-Terrorism that would provide heavy penalties when one is found guilty of it. There are also concerns that a charge could not be brought to a civil court when sensitive information and witnesses with regards to National security would be exposed. This could be resolved by calling a closed-door hearing. Prosecution witnesses’ identities could be kept secret. The authority must prove its ability and effectiveness to bring forward the charge, if any, within an extended time period. In my opinion, 2 years is the maximum time we could give the authority to further their investigations. If they could not conclude their findings to bring forward a charge, it just demonstrates their inadequacy and the detainee should be released with apologies. Individuals should not be made accountable for the inadequacy of the relevant department. The department should be made accountable for their inadequacy and inefficiency. No further “extension” of detention should be allowed nor entertained.

The question now lies in how do we define Terrorism? Terrorism is an act that compromises the safety of citizens’ lives and properties for their political motivation. Terrorism is an attempt of capturing power through an unconstitutional and undemocratic way, by means of instilling fear in the population through violent and devastating acts of indiscriminate bombings and killings.

I would support an Anti-Terrorism Act to replace the present Internal Security Act. The Anti-Terrorism Act will have a more stringent requirement that will put a check on discriminate abuse of the power provided by the Act. The agents must apply to the court to provide the reasons or reasonable belief they have on a suspect that would engage in terrorist acts that would endanger the lives and properties of innocent citizens. The maximum time allowed for detention without trial would be fixed at 24 months. If the agents could not provide further evidences to formulate a charge of terrorism or treason on the suspect, they will have to release the detainees with public apologies. They could further investigate on the detainees as they deem fit but further detention must be accompanied with a valid charge.

It is necessary to determine the level of involvement of each suspect. Are they

1. supporter
2. junior member
3. senior member
4. key expert (bomb, networking, fund raising,
recruitment, trainers etc).
5. key member / senior leader

The Anti-terrorist laws would have to make differential sentence for different level of involvement. Life imprisonment could be imposed for Senior leaders and key expert.

This will effectively prevent abuse such additional powers provided by such Act and put up a system that does not tolerate incompetence bureaucrats. This will also provide a balance for the need to protect innocent citizens from terrorist threats.

Goh Meng Seng


pea said...

Your definition of terrorism is too simplistic and highly Western-centric as well.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Dear PEA,

I would appreciate if you could elaborate on it and maybe I could make amendment to it if I feel that it is acceptable.

pea said...

Sorry, I do not have the time now (currently having exams and one of them is on a module about terrorism) and when I do I will get back to you? :)

fawkes said...

Interesting post, but disappointed to see that pea never elaborated.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The generally-accepted definition of terrorism is acts of violence against civilians for political gain. I don't think your definition is "too simplistic or western-centric" as pea says, but rather too ambiguous. When you say "compromises safety" it doesn't explicitly mean violence, and is not distinguishable from a criminal act. You need the word "violence" so speeches and messages aren't lumped in with the general category of an "act" and you need the "political gain" because we need to distinguish terrorism from criminal activity.

2. 24 months is far too long for any detention without trial. Our current system of indefinite detention needs to change, but not to 2 years. In Britain they recently revised it up to 42 days, and us being a smaller country shouldn't need even that much. I would say 21 days is more than enough, for similar reasons such as yours that we need to justify the detention at some point and NOT compromise individual freedoms in such a blatant way.

Donaldson Tan said...

The defintion of terrorism is left to be legally vague, so that terrorism laws can be used against anyone should the government deems fit.

The best example to highlight this was the UK government using terrorism laws to seize/freeze Icelandic assets in the UK when the Icelandic government refused to protect bank accounts belonging to UK municipal governments, town councils, government agencies, etc. This happened in Oct 2008.

Anonymous said...

On a somewhat related note, a person detained without trial should be compensated for wrongful imprisonment. An internet search on "dna exoneration compensation" reveals some current practices, and I provide one example.