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Use of ISA against Shia followers 'unIslamic and unconstitutional'

The use of the Internal Security Act against followers of Islam's Shia sect is "unIslamic, unconstitutional and against all basic principles of human rights", a former detainee said today.

Abdullah Hassan, who spent two years in the Kamunting detention camp, said his arrest under ISA - which allows detention without trial - was a violation of basic rights.

The former detainee today met with four Suhakam commissioners, Harun Hashim, Zainah Anwar, Prof Mehrun Siraj and Prof Hamdan Adnan, for an hour and a half. The press and a representative from human rights organisation Suaram were not allowed into the meeting.

Abdullah was sent to the Kamunting detention camp on Oct 2, 1997 and released on Dec 31, 1999. Under Section 8(1) of the Act, the home minister is empowered to detain individuals for period of two years, which is renewable thereafter.

In his detention order, Abdullah was accused of "receiving secret funds, distributing pamphlets, and sponsoring secret meetings ... and certain activities on teachings deviating from the teachings of Islam that may cause confusion and disunity among the Muslims in Malaysia."

In February, malaysiakini reported that between Oct 20, 2000 and Jan 5, 2001, six Shia followers were arrested under the ISA.

The six were construction worker Norman Batcha, businessmen Zainal Talib, Ahmadi Asab, Syed Hassan Alattas, Mustapha Safar and Syed Mokhtar Al-Hadad.

Three have since been released, but one was slapped with a one-year restriction order to remain in Gombak, Selangor.

According to Malaysian Shia Action Committee (MSAC) chairperson Muhammad Aidi, the ISA arrests are against the Constitution.

"The arrests are a clear violation of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion," Muhammad said.

Under the article, it is stated that "every person has the right to profess and practise his religion".

According to a memorandum handed to Suhakam by MSAC last month, the Shia are "those who consider the succession to Prophet Muhammad to be the special right of the Prophet's family".

Shia followers number between 2,000 and 3,000 in Malaysia, where the predominant sect is Sunni.

Issue to be discussed

Meanwhile, commissioner Zainah told reporters today that she would be taking the matter up to the other Suhakam commissioners early next month.

"The discussion was very frank and open but before we make any decisions we must deliberate the matter further and bring it up before the commission," Zainah said.

Zainah, who is also president of women's group Sisters In Islam, added that she might be seeking clarification from the home minister and the Prime Minister's Department's Jakim (Malaysian Islamic Development Department).

When asked if the MSAC's allegations warrant further investigation, she said that "when it comes to the use of the ISA, it is a very serious matter".

Earlier, in another function, commissioner Hamdan announced that Suhakam will be visiting all ISA detainees being held in Kamunting on July 3. Apart from Hamdan, other members of the visiting team are Mehrun, Zainah and Simon Sipaun.