Tuesday 15 September 2009

Malaysia: 52 years of independence, 49 years of the ISA

[Picture: The Malaysian flag flies high over Independence Square, Kuala Lumpur, where I was stopped and questioned by a plain-clothes member of the 'Tourist Police']

Just as an example of how you can sometimes be right in the middle of a big event without even realising that anything is happening, a few weeks back I was in Kuala Lumpur when large-scale demonstrations broke out against the Internal Securities Act - a law passed in 1960 which allows detention without trial for a period of up to two years. The act is itself a continuation of colonial-era legislation brought in during the Malayan Emergency, in which British, colonial, and Malaysian troops successfully defeated a communist insurgency. However the first I knew about it was when I bought the (clearly censored) local English-language papers the next day and saw this headline:

Detention without trial under ordinary circumstances is an offence against human rights if it exceeds a period of even a few days, Britain and other democracies have slipped from that that standard in the war against terror. However, the ISA is a clear example of how, once such powers are granted to the state, they can stay on the books for a very long time - long after their supposed original purpose has ceased to be relevent.

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