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Abolish the ISA and set up a Commission on Inquiry to foster national unity

~by: Tan Jee Say~

The Ministry of Home Affairs said on Friday it wants to keep the Internal Security Act even though Malaysia has announced the day before that it will repeal it. This seems to contradict then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s statement in 1991 that Singapore would seriously consider abolishing the ISA if Malaysia were to do so.

During the TOC Presidential Face to Face debate on 18 August 2011, I said that the ISA has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished. On Dr Tony Tan’s contention that the ISA was necessary to deter terrorists, I replied that other laws could deal with them. This same point was made by Malaysian PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak when he explained his decision to abolish the ISA. He clearly saw that there is no reason for retaining the ISA simply on the basis of the terrorist threat.

At the same TOC debate, I referred to the promise made by Mr Goh Chok Tong to set up a Commission of Inquiry to look into the detentions of the 22 alleged Marxists in 1987. More than 24 years later, controversy continues to rage over the true reason for the arrests. The lives and reputations of many of them and their families have been destroyed and nothing can bring back their best years. It is time we bring closure to this sad episode of our recent history by convening a truly independent Commission of Inquiry to seek the truth so that the innocent can get on with the rest of their lives.

But it is not just the lives of the 1987 detainees and their families who were affected by the ISA. Hundreds of others have also suffered a similar fate in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Their lives and reputations are as important as those of the 1987 detainees. To bring complete closure to the ISA story, I urge that the Commission of Inquiry look into all cases of arrests under the ISA. The objective is to seek truth and reconciliation rather than to punish those who were responsible for the ISA detentions. Such reconciliation effort will close the ISA chapter of our history and help integrate those affected into the mainstream of society and thus bring about a unified nation. It is also a vital ingredient as we move forward to future legislation to protect the security and sovereignty of our nation in this era of global terrorism while protecting the rights of innocent citizens. All of us, from all ends of the political spectrum, should come together to promote National Unity which the President and the Prime Minister have said they want to promote and achieve after their respective elections.

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This statement has been brought to the attention of the President and Prime Minister of Singapore.