KUALA LUMPUR, April 17 — The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government admitted today to having used the Internal Security Act (ISA) in the past for “wrongful reasons” but urged their detractors to look forward instead of dwelling on history.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz said this in the Dewan Rakyat today when repeatedly pestered to comment on the allegedly “biased” arrests of opposition politicians during the infamous 1987 Operasi Lalang incident.
“On the 1987 incident... those are incidents that we will not repeat, that we do not want to see repeated.
“But we look ahead and not dwell on matters of implementation (of the ISA) at the time,” Nazri (picture) told the House when winding up the debate on the second reading of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill 2012.
The veteran Umno minister was also forced to deflect several accusations levelled against his party president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was the party’s Youth chief when the government launched the 1987 ISA dragnet on opposition leaders.
Interjecting, Karpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) demanded the minister explain why Najib had not been arrested for allegedly issuing a racially-charged threat to “bathe the keris (dagger) in the blood of the Chinese”.
“The Umno Youth chief, who is today our prime minister, said clearly after unsheathing his keris that this keris must taste Chinese blood.
“Why wasn’t he detained under the ISA?” Karpal asked to loud shouts of disapproval from across the floor.
Nazri immediately stood up to refute the DAP chairman’s remark, which has often been repeated in the media, blogs and political speeches on the 1987 incident, and told the House that the allegation was untrue.
“This did not happen. I was there, I know what he said. It did not happen,” he said repeatedly.
Ops Lalang was launched on the morning of October 27, 1987, to clamp down on social activists and opposition politicians. Two dailies and two weekly newspapers were shut down and 106 people were arrested under the ISA at the time.
Nazri noted that when the controversial ISA was first enacted in Parliament in 1960, then prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Najib’s father, had pledged that the law would not be used to punish individuals for their political leanings.
Quoting Tun Razak, Nazri said the ISA was meant to, “safeguard the security of the country and not to punish persons for crime. A person is detained for what it is considered he may reasonably be expected to try to do but not for what he is proved beyond doubt to have done.
“He is detained because he represents a risk to the security of the country and not because he is a member of a lawful political party. The Government has no desire whatsoever to hinder healthy democratic opposition in any way.
“This is a democratic country and the government intends to maintain it as such. It is the enemies of democracy who will be detained”.
But, admitted the Padang Rengas MP, this pledge may not have been adhered to throughout the years following the ISA’s enactment, leading to numerous wrongful detentions.
“But now, this guarantee has been codified in the law. No one can be caught under this law solely for their political activities or affiliations. So, it is no longer just a guarantee, it has been enshrined in this law,” he said.
Responding to criticisms on the 28-day detention allowed under the new law, Nazri said this was not considered “detention without trial” but merely a period to allow investigation, much like the 14-day period allowed for under the Criminal Procedure Code.
“And this (28-day) period has its sunset clause,” he said, referring to a provision in the Bill that states the period must come under review once every five years.
The Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill was mooted by the Najib administration to replace the controversial ISA and among others, removes the government’s right to detain a person without trial.
Under the new law, a police officer is allowed to detain a person for up to 28 days for the purpose of investigation, unlike the two-year “detention without trial” period allowed for under the ISA.
Nazri also told the House, in response to a suggestion by Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim during the latter’s debate on the new Bill, that the Royal Malaysian Police already has a special counter-terrorism unit tasked specifically to handle terrorism financing.
“This unit has been in operation for a long time and is currently carrying out investigations and is monitoring militant activities in this country,” he said.
The Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat after committee stage debates this afternoon.