On 10 September 2016, Singapore held its first and only public forum on the Internal Security Act (ISA) at The Agora. It was organised by Function 8, a non governmental organisation deeply concerned with the misuse of the ISA from 1948 to the present day. Thousands of ordinary citizens, politicians and activists were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned without trial under this law. The number of cases have not been systematically collated. Secret files have not been opened for the scrutiny of historians. Selected people have been allowed to peruse selected documents of the Internal Security Department (ISD). They have proclaimed themselves to be historians having the privilege of reading these files and have written books. Sadly they have missed the opportunity of finding out the exact number of prisoners under the ISA and the “crimes” they were alleged to have committed.
In November 2011 (ST 22.11.2011), Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean in a written reply to NCMP Lina Chiam, disclosed that there were 2,460 arrests under the ISA from 1959 to 1990. No one has been able to verify this figure or to obtain a clarification as to what constitutes an “arrest”. Would hauling a person to the police station, interrogating him for 48 hours and releasing him constitute an “arrest”? DPM Teo did however disclose that of this 2,460, 4 in 10 were detained. Again, would releasing a person after interrogating him for 30 days, taking him out of the prison gate and arresting him again be termed as being “detained”?
If we accept the total arrested as 2,460 as at 1990, the total number of people arrested today would be 2,592. Minister Wong Kan Seng disclosed in parliament that six people were arrested in 1997 and 1998. On the Ministry of Home Affairs website, 126 Muslims have been listed as arrested since 2001.
The speakers at the forum were Teo Soh Lung, a retired lawyer, M Ravi a Constitutional lawyer and Dr James Gomes, an academic and political commentator.
Teo gave a brief history of the ISA, its use against pacifists, activists, professionals, businessmen, journalists and political opponents from 1948 to the present day and argued that we have other laws to protect our country and our government. M Ravi spoke about the law of judicial review in ISA cases. The present chief justice had allowed judicial review in one case under the Criminal Law (Temporary) Provisions Act which also permits imprisonment without trial. He was of the view that judicial review is still available under the ISA even though the law specifically rejected judicial review. James Gomes gave a detailed account of the case of Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff who was arrested and detained when he crossed the Tuas causeway on 1 July 2016. He has been served with a two year detention order.
The questions that followed from the audience were thick and fast. We have been governed by the ISA and its predecessors for nearly 70 years. We are used to this law and the majority think that they will never be arrested under this law. We do not question the effect of the use or rather the misuse of this law and the consequences it has on us, the prisoners, their families, relatives and friends. Hopefully, this forum will start a real and frank discussion on the ISA.
The following is the presentation delivered by Teo Soh Lung: