The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued a statement in response to calls for the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Singapore by ex- ISA detainees (see HERE).
Pointing to the evolution of the ISA as Singapore’s circumstances, vulnerability and risk tolerance changes, the ministry stated that the “instrument of last resort” has enabled the nation to “counter serious security threats, protect our people, and preserve our racial harmony and social cohesion”.
Reiterating a point already made, the authority said, “It (the ISA) remains relevant and necessary in today’s evolving security environment, for keeping Singapore safe and secure” (see HERE).
There are other tools besides the ISA at Singapore’s disposal to combat this problem. Acts such as the Sedition Act, Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act, Vandalism Act, the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act and the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act are all laws that can be effectively utilised to deal with the threat of terrorism. In fact, I would argue that these acts are more useful in dealing with the threat of terrorism because they target the problem more specifically. So if the combat of terrorism is the main justification for the retention of the ISA, then the ISA is superfluous.
The ISA has been criticised as opaque and vague. Indeed Section 8 of the ISA (see HERE) confers on the government the right to arrest and detain individuals without trial for up to two years at a time if the President is satisfied that to do so:
- would prevent that person from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore or any part thereof; or
- if such detention was for the maintenance of public order or essential services therein.
The wide way in which Section 8 is drafted is open to abuse because terms such as “prejudicial to the security of Singapore” or the “maintenance of public order” are subject to interpretation. Its retention therefore leaves Singaporeans in a situation whereby the most draconian sanctions can be imposed on an individual on the basis of an act which is subjective.
How can the ISA keep Singapore safe and secure if its citizens are unsure of its exact remit? When something is shrouded in mystery, people tend to worry and speculate. Far from keeping Singapore safe and secure, the ISA could arguably keep citizens fearful and anxious.
The ISA should be abolished in line with the fact that the threats of communists are a relic of the past. There are other laws in place that can deal with the security of our nation effectively.
Where an individual’s freedom can be arbitrarily taken away without trial, people need to know exactly where their boundaries lie. A law that imposes such a fearsome sanction has to be clear about what acts an individual needs to commit before he or she triggers that punishment. As it stands, the ISA ‘s ability to deprive one of his or her liberty without trial and without a clear list of transgressing crimes is outdated, unnecessary and unfair.