The Honorable Dato Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi
Head of Government of Malaysia
Paris – Kuala Lumpur, October 7th 2008
We are writing to you to express our utmost concern at the rising trend in Malaysia to detain peaceful civil society activists under the Intern Security Act (ISA). We believe that such arrests jeopardize freedom of expression in Malaysia, the protection of national security serving as a pretext.
Mr. Raja Petra Kamaruddin is running Malaysia-Today, the most popular blog in Malaysia for its courageous reports about corruption and abuse of powers by various authorities and government leaders. He was arrested on September 12, 2008 under the ISA and was served with a 2-year detention order on September 23. He is currently detained under the ISA at the Kamunting Detention Centre in Perak.
We believe that the decision to imprison Raja Petra for two years under Section 8 of the ISA aims at thwarting his habeas corpus application against his detention under Section 73 of the ISA. A new habeas corpus application will have to be filed against the 2 year detention under Section 8. In adjudicating the legality of detention based on the Minister’s satisfaction that a national security threat exists under Section 8, the courts have customarily applied a subjective test of ministerial satisfaction. In other words, courts are precluded from scrutinising the Minister’s decision to detain according to any objective criteria of reasonableness.
Ms. Teressa Kok, a member of Parliament and senior executive councillor of Selangor state government, had been arrested under the ISA on the same day, but was released a few days later.
Journalist Tan Hoon Cheng was arrested the same day under the ISA at her home in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. According to various sources, Tan Hoon Cheng’s arrest may be linked to her report about the racist statement made by Ahmad Ismail, a member of the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Tan Hoon Cheng wrote that Ahmad had reportedly stated that Chinese Malaysians are "squatters" in the country. She was released after one day in detention.
Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders P Uthayakumar, M Manoharan, V Ganabatirau, R Kenghadharan and T Vasanthakumar are still detained under Malaysia’s ISA. Hindraf, a coalition-based organisation, protests what they believe are discriminatory government economic policies against Malaysia’s Indian population. After a rally at Batu Caves, on December 13, the five Hindraf leaders were arrested and accused of having links with international terrorist organizations and of being involved in activities that amount to inciting racial hatred. FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture, in the framework of their joint programme the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, have been following closely their situation, and published a mission report recommending their immediate release.
FIDH and SUARAM call upon the government of Malaysia to release immediately and unconditionally Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the five HINDRAF leaders as well as all other ISA detainees, as their detention appears definitely arbitrary since it aims at silencing them.
More generally, FIDH and SUARAM consider that the ISA should be repealed in its entirety and all persons in Malaysia should be tried in conformity with international fair trial standards. Indefinite detention without trial can never be in conformity with international human rights standards.
Hoping that you will take into consideration the above mentioned concerns, we remain,
Swee Seng Yap
Executive Director of Suaram