Written by Ng E-Jay
10 May 2009

After news of the re-capture of alleged JI terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari broke, the mainstream press as well as the general public were quick to give praise to the authorities on both sides of the causeway and in particular, our own Internal Security Department, for their effort in the operation.

A letter from Mr Lionel De Souza published in the weekend edition of TODAY newspaper congratulated Singapore’s ISD and Malaysia’s Special Branch for “the excellent and protracted investigation and cooperation“, and even lambasted critics of the Government who asked DPM Wong Kan Seng to resign last year, saying they should “in shame, remain silent forever“.

In his statement to the press, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that he had no doubt Mas Selamat would eventually be found because of the “quality and commitment” of the ISD officers working the case. DPM Wong Kan Seng, who is also Home Affairs Minister, also shared emotional moments with the mainstream press, recounting the numerous congratulatory messages he had received via SMS, and praising ISD staff for their “teamwork and camaraderie“.

Lost in all this mutual congratulatory ebullience is the fact the Mas Selamat Kastari has never been charged in a court of law for his alleged terrorist activities.

The mainstream press in Singapore states unequivocally that Mas Selamat Kastari is a terrorist, echoing what must be the sentiment of the Government. Surely after spending so many years investigating the activities of this man, and after so many months interrogating him in Whitley Detention Road Centre, the authorities should have sufficient evidence to charge him in a court of law.

What reason is there to hold Mas Selamat under indefinite detention and deny him a fair trial when there should already be a mountain of evidence stacked against him?

While the mainstream press and many members of the public are elated and relieved over the re-capture of Mas Selamat, I feel this congratulatory sentiment should be kept in check for two reasons:

  1. The fact that Mas Selamat managed to escape from our shores despite supposed heightened border security shows that more needs to be done in this regard. The authorities have not convinced me that they are doing all they can by merely dishing out platitudes about how vigilant they are.
  2. I worry that this episode will be used by the ruling PAP to further entrench the legitimacy of ISD and the Internal Security Act in the eyes of the public, and encourage the people to adopt an unquestioning attitude towards the issue of detention without trial in Singapore (and also in Malaysia). This would be treading on precarious ground.

The ruling PAP has always tried to inculcate the message to Singaporeans that the Internal Security Act (ISA) is absolutely necessary to combat terrorism and preserve homeland security.

However, the ISA has been abused by the PAP in the past to crack down on political dissent rather than on criminal elements. Two notable examples come to mind — the 1963 widespread arrest of Barisan Socialis and Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) leaders and members termed “Operation Cold Store”, and the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy” in which social workers and activists were arrested and made to confess to being part of a communist plot. Other examples of arrests of political dissidents include that of Chia Thye Poh who was detained without trial for 23 years and Said Zahari who was similarly detained for 17 years.

In my view, there is in fact no cause for celebration if lingering doubts over the effectiveness of our security forces and the overall competence of the Government in the area of homeland security remain, and alleged terrorists like Mas Selamat Kastari do not get a fair trial in a court of law but remain under indefinite detention.

The Internal Security Act in both Singapore and Malaysia is a blunt tool and a draconian piece of legislation that has too often been used to destroy political opposition. It is a dangerous instrument to be left in the hands of undemocratic Governments like the Singapore’s PAP and Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional, even if they do from time to time use it for the right purposes against criminals and terrorists.

Clearly there is a need to reform this archaic piece of legislation that has for far too many years caused untold harm to innocent victims that just happened to be the target of regimes fearful for their own power.


Much that Wong Kan Seng needs to account for Accountability, not celebration, needed in the Mas Selamat saga

  1. I hope you will take this comment in good spirit.

    I rather focus energies in making sure the ISA is not abused rather then try to abolish it.

    I say this as there are lessons in recent history, most telling of course was the mumbai bombings. The bombings revealed glaring gaps in the India’s security systems that prevented decisive action. They then scrambled to beef of their anti-terror law to double the powers of detention.

    We saw the same in the US after 9-11, and UK after london 7/7.

  2. Ejay,

    Please do not confuse your fights for political expression and a fair judicury for the protection of our nation’s security.

    Public protesters deserve open and fair trials. Terrorists require an entirely different approach.

    The ISA will never again be used as a poltiical weapon. There are other legislations that fulfill that need. So i dont see why you choose to attack the ISA when clearly it was not been used on politcal entities since the marxist conspiracy.

  3. Hi Colin and “The Political Man”,

    We should call for ISA to be reformed, because history has shown has it is much too open to abuse. In fact, look no further than Malaysia, at what they are doing to the blogger Raja Petra right now. Not to mention numerous other examples in recent memory like Teresa Kok, Tan Hoon Cheng, HINDRAF, etc.

    My take is that existing legislation outside ISA already grants the authorities sufficient power to tackle criminal and terrorist elements. If there is even a need to grant additional pre-emptive powers to the MHA, I am all for it, as long as sufficient steps are taken to ensure those powers are not abused. In this regard, I would also like to mention once again that I am disappointed with the Public Order Act, because it is a piece of legislation that in fact does not grant additional powers to handle terrorism, but is instead directed against political opposition.

    Given the dismal track record of our Governments on BOTH sides of the causeway in perverting the laws and instruments of power to their own political ends, you can perhaps see where I am coming from.

    “The Political Man”, you say the ISA will never again be used as a political weapon. Why are you so confident? Again, look no further than Malaysia.

    E-Jay

  4. Hear, hear. I agree with E-jay completely. As long as there IS a possibility that the ISA can be abused by government merely to preserve and perpetuate its power by unjust means, then justice demands that such a law must be abolished.

  5. I’m all for more freedom for political expression and demonstrations, but calling for the abolishment of ISA when the number one security problem at the moment for every country in the corld today is terrorism is just not practical. The better and more realistic approach would be the refinement of the Act to ensure it is not abused. I’m not saying I like the Detention without Trial law but I just think its not the right time to NOT have such a law.

  6. I agree with The Political Man above:

    “Terrorists require an entirely different approach.”

    I say Gitmo has to be cleaned out, fixed up, made transparent and internationalized. Guys like Mas Selamat Kastari can be housed there indefinitely: fed well; no torture; visited only by the IRC or equivalent. He stays there for “the duration”.

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Nobody should be denied the rights of a fair trial. I would like to see MSK being produced in public and given public trial. If not proven guilty then WKS should be charged for inhumane treatment of terror suspects.

    Political Man,
    So you don’t need proof to determine someone is guilty because he is a suspected terrorist? How would you even know if they are really dangerous in the first place. Think about this. What if you or your family member became the one who is accused. Your logic and sense of justice is astounding!

  8. I agree with what Political Man is saying

    Please do not confuse your fights for political expression and a fair judicury for the protection of our nation’s security.

    In light of all the terrorist activities that has been going on since 9/11, global terrorism is here and very real. Just look around the world. All the way from Spain to Middle Eastern Countries to Asia. Countless lifes has been lost to this kind of inhumane activity, In my view, human lifes would ALWAYS come before anything else and its with the laws that we have. We are able to protect the people of our country. Isnt that the most important thing at hand. If you were to the government or someone with the power to decide all these. Would you want to put the people of your country in this risk? One man vs 4mil. Do the math and the result is clear.

    “In my view, there is in fact no cause for celebration if lingering doubts over the effectiveness of our security forces and the overall competence of the Government in the area of homeland security remain, and alleged terrorists like Mas Selamat Kastari do not get a fair trial in a court of law but remain under indefinite detention.”

    Furthermore, casting doubts over the effectiveness of our security forces and the overall competence of the Government in the area of homeland security? That is a statement that is so undeserving. Dont all of us know that Singapore is one of the countries that has the lowest crime rate? I do agree that the escape of MSK created a dent in our country’s overall image but the re-capturing of him more or less redeems it to a certain degree. I myself was felt relief when i read the news in papers. I believe most of us do. The important thing is once again, we are able to sleep soundly knowing MSK is behind bars for now.

    Openureyes,
    Your analogy is kinda weak. People like MSK who is a JI Terrorist is dangerous to life and propertry.

    “How would you even know if they are really dangerous in the first place.”

    If we wait for that someone whom the government assess to be dangerous to create a terrorist attack, then life and property would have been loss. In my view, this is undesirable. Think about this. What if you or your family member became the one who is killed in a terrorist attack, Then what?

    Anyway, its just my point of view. Hope its taken in good spirit.

  9. ISA was inherited from the british administration to curtail commmunism.Maybe it was relevant then but with the fall of soviet Russia,communism has become obselete.As such ISA become irrelevant and obselete.Nevertheless weak goverments require this department to exist to ensure their survival especially with regards to strong political opponents who cannot be charged in the normal court.The rule of law shoud not be compromised…….every individual deserve the right to defend himself…even Mas selamat or Mas tak selamat.Or else,anybody can simply be labelled a terrorist and denied the rights to defend himself even if he is really innocent.Internal security officer s can make mistakes..they are also humans and can make errors in judgement.Furthermore the internal security department is not cheap to run.Its eats up a big chunk of our taxed dollars.I think it is high time a civilised nation like us to do away with ISA.Just let the police depatment handle our terrorists problems and we will be looked upon internationally as a civilise nation worthy to be emulated…..transparent at every level!!!!

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