Source: Teo Soh Lung Facebook page.

Executive detention orders and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

by Teo Soh Lung

On 16 Jan 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that Murad bin Mohd Said (a freelance religious teacher, aged 46 and his student, Razali bin Abas, a 56 year old technician were issued with 2-year restriction orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in December and October 2018 respectively.

Restriction orders are conditions imposed by the president of Singapore.These orders restrict the freedom of speech, expression, movement, association, employment and many other rights of the person. They are equivalent to placing a person under probation by the order of the judge after a full open trial except that under the ISA regime, there is no open trial and the orders are made by the minister of home affairs, using the name of our president. Though the orders are theoretically made to last two years, they are renewable and it is common for people to be placed under severe restrictive conditions for 4 to 8 years.

Further, these orders are likely to have been made after 30 days of detention and interrogation (with or without ill treatment) by the Internal Security Department.

According to the ministry’s press release, Murad was alleged to have “propagated beliefs promoting violence and views detrimental to the cohesion of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society. He taught that it was compulsory to kill apostates, defined broadly to include non-believers, Sufis, Shi’ites and Muslims who have renounced Islam or disregarded texts and rulings from the Quran and Sunnah.”

These are serious allegations and we do not know the evidence the government have against them. But we can assume (and this is admitted by our former prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew) that if there were sufficient evidence to stand up in a court of law, these two men would have been prosecuted instead of being interrogated and released on restriction orders without a trial. And so because of the lack of evidence, they are punished with restriction orders.

Soon after the issuance of the press release, two ministers spoke in support of the minister’s action.

According to news from TODAY Online the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli noted that Murad did not change his ways, even though Muis and the Asatizah Recognition Board spoke to him after he came to the council’s attention.

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, also weighed in on Facebook, stressing that the latest cases “underscore the continued need for vigilance”.

I do not know if the ministers had the opportunity of interviewing Murad and Razali. Adding voice to another minister however, is a pretty common practice with the PAP government. The ministers probably know that the two men cannot rebut with public statements under the restriction orders and no right-thinking former detainees would openly deny the allegations so soon after gaining partial freedom. There have been precedents of immediate re-arrests when released prisoners issued public statement denying the government’s allegations against them (even though such statements did not contravene the restriction orders).

Put yourself in the shoes of Murad and Razali. Will you be happy to be detained for a month, interrogated in cold rooms and then slapped with restriction orders without a full and fair trial?

I am not saying that the government’s allegations are baseless. What I think should be done is to place them on trial before our judges. If they are found guilty, let them serve a prison sentence or be placed on probation. The executive arm of the government should not play the role of our judiciary.

Singapore is a member of ASEAN. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was inaugurated by ASEAN Leaders on 23 October 2009. Three years later, on 18 November 2012, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) was adopted by all ten ASEAN Member States.

Significantly, ASEAN Member States AFFIRMED their commitment to:

(a) the full implementation of the AHRD to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in the region” and REAFFIRMED their commitment to:

(b) ensure that the implementation of the AHRD be in accordance with our commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and other international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties, as well as to relevant ASEAN declarations and instruments pertaining to human rights.

The people of the ten ASEAN countries have no reason to doubt the good intentions of their governments to abide by what they have pledged to do more than six years ago.

Several press releases and two important forum/dialogue were held by AICHR in December 2018. These were “Access to justice” and the “Rights of accused persons in criminal cases”. The recommendations on the latter were most interesting.

Regrettably however, I am not able to find any discussions or statements on declaration 12 of the AHRD which states:

“Every person has the right to personal liberty and security. No person shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, search, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty.”

More than six years have passed since the AHRD was proudly proclaimed by the leaders of ASEAN. I hope that Singapore will take the lead in recognising that every citizen has human rights and the freedom from arbitrary arrests under the ISA, the Criminal Law (Temporary) Provisions Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act will be abolished pursuant to Declaration 12.