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The internal security minister will not have the "courage" to arrest those suspected of threatening national security under the Internal Security Act (ISA) if the detention order is subjected to judiciary reviews.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Abdul Aziz claimed that if the review in court is allowed, no minister would want to take responsibility for the detention.

"This is because the minister must be given the discretion to decide on the order, irrespective whether it is right or wrong. He must be made to feel at ease when deciding on the detention order," he explained.

Nazri, who oversees parliamentary affairs made these remarks in his public debate on the ISA with Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur last night.

The unprecedented debate at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall attracted about 1,000 people, mainly Umno and DAP members. Representatives from the embassies and NGOs were also in attendance.

Section 73 of the ISA allows the police to arrest and detain up to a period of 60 days any person who may be suspected of acting prejudicially to public order or whose detention is necessary for the "suppression of violence, or the prevention of crimes involving violence".

Detainees can then be held for a period of two years without trial on the orders of the internal security minister, which upon expiry can be extended indefinitely. Judicial review for the detention is not allowed.

On police's advice

On criticisms that the absolute power vested with the minister in charge of the ISA would be abused, Nazri said that the people would have abandoned the minister during the elections if that was the case.

He also brushed aside criticisms that the internal security minister only acts on the advice from the police, but not on his own judgement or investigation.

"Even if the minister has to investigate, who shall he rely on? Of course, it's the police again, so why don't you trust the police then?"

Nazri went on to explain at length why the ISA is still needed in the country, saying that threats of national security still exist although the communists threats are irrelevant today.

"In the 1960s, we needed the ISA to combat the communists. If the ISA was tabled in 1970s, it was to do with the 1969 racial riots.

"If it was tabled in 2004, definitely it had to do with terrorism," he said, referring to the Suhakam report last year which asked for the repeal of the ISA.

In May last year, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia called for the repeal and the enactment of a new comprehensive law to redress an imbalanced situation which is "disproportionately weighted in favour of national security".

People's choice

Nazri also argued that if the people did not agree with the ISA, they would not have given the government the mandate to rule since independence in 1957.

"We need the ISA, it has been with us for so many years, if you say the rakyat are against the ISA, why then did they continue to choose the BN so many times? Jadi kita nak macam mana (What could we do)?"

"If you choose BN, then you say Yes to ISA, if you support DAP, then you say No to ISA," he added to a round of applause from his supporters.

The minister also rebutted the opposition leader's suggestion to debate ISA in Parliament.

"It's not useful at all if we debate it in the House, as the government has the overwhelming majority. So no matter how long you debate, the government will still win the motion," he said.

Nazri conceded that detention without trial would cause much suffering to the families of detainees but for the 'rights' and security of the majority, it is necessary to retain the ISA.

Preventive measures

The minister also equated the detention under the ISA with the 14-day police remand for criminal cases, saying that they are similar.

"If the ISA detention without trial is not fair, what about the procedure to remand crime suspects for 14 days to facilitate investigation? This is detention without trial too."

"The only thing to differentiate the two (police remand and ISA detention) is one is for two weeks, another is for two years." His remarks immediately invited jeers from the crowd.

Nazri then went on to explain that it was the responsibility of the government to take pre-cautious steps to detain suspects sometimes as it was hard to prove that some people are out to create chaos when they have yet to do it.

"Surely, it is only sensible to arrest someone who brings a bomb and not wait after the bomb has exploded to arrest him," he said.

Earlier, the opposition leader who started the debate urged the government to repeal the ISA "as it is a very undemocratic security law".

He said the correct abbreviation of ISA should be 'Ikut Suka Aku' (up to me), as it gives the absolute discretion to the minister concerned.

Lim who was arrested twice under the ISA, in 1969 and 1987, revealed that when he met Dr Mahathir Mohamad after his second detention, the latter told him that the reason he was arrested was not because he had done anything that could threaten national security, but because he had created the atmosphere for the premier to arrest him.

Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim, chairperson of Transparency International Malaysia, was the moderator of the debate which went on smoothly under tight police surveillance.