The Internal Security Act (ISA) has long been criticised as outdated and no longer necessary in our day and age.
The ISA is a hangover from colonial times when the British were trying to control its empire. It was then used to deal with communists in our early years as an independent country. Given that we are now an independent country, why are we still holding on to our British reminders of colonial times?
Communism is also a long gone threat. Our closest neighbour, Malaysia, who also inherited Singapore’s colonial laws have already made moves to abolish their own version of the ISA while our authorities continue to uphold the necessity of this archaic law without concrete evidence as to why this is necessary.
Singapore has cited the threat of terrorism as a reason for retaining the ISA. Indeed, two Singaporeans have just been issued restriction orders under the ISA.
Law and Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam, has said the orders are a clear indication that authorities will act under the ISA “whenever society is threatened”. However, is the ISA really required to deal with terrorists? Why don’t we come up with terrorist specific laws to regulate this? Surely that would be more appropriate and effective than a “catch all” act that is not crime specific? Singapore is after all not reticent in coming up with new laws to target specific areas of concern. Just look at how quick authorities are to come up with regulation to target the alleged scourge of “fake news”.
Besides, who deems what a threat to society is? Is this not open to possible abuse?
The problem with the ISA is that it allows for the authorities to hold detainees for an indefinite amount of time without charge. This means that even though a detainee’s guilt has not been determined by a court of law, he or she is still locked up, deprived of their freedom indefinitely. Is this fair?
If a person cannot be charged in a court of law, surely this would mean that there is not enough to charge them in the first place? If so, why are they still detained? The indefinite period of time is not only chilling but arguably incongruent with the the values of the democratic country that we pride ourselves of being. It is also important to note that those so detained face the stigma of being deemed criminals even though they have never been charged in a court of law.
What if the detention was a mistake to begin with? Is there a system of compensation put in place to compensate those who have had their freedom so curtailed without charge?
No amount of compensation will ever be enough to make up for the wrongful loss of an individual’s freedom. However, a system of compensation at least acts somewhat as a system of accountability on the part of the authorities.
What we currently have, is a system that allows the government to detain anyone on suspicion of anything it deems a threat without a need to define the length of such incarceration. The person may never be charged for any crime and will never have any right to any compensation for being locked up without charge. This renders the individual totally helpless and beholden to the state without any check or balance. Is this really a system we are comfortable with retaining?
I understand the need for the government to have laws to deal with crimes. However, any law has to be accountable and transparent with charge and sentencing openly meted out by a court of law.
Justice should never operate in the shade and the ISA does exactly that – lurking in the shadows of uncertainty. Societies evolve and laws evolve with society. It is not static We no longer need the ISA. If there are fears for terrorism. Please enact specific laws which enable perpetrators to be charged and sentenced in a transparent manner.