Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Do We Need Unjust and Draconian Laws?

Written by johnleemk on 2:08:38 pm Jul 17, 2007.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have stated that "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Most Malaysians would prefer to contest that sentiment.

After all, for decades we have tolerated draconian and unjust laws foisted upon us by the government. We have always accepted them as necessary for our safety and wellbeing.

Perhaps this was true for a time. At the time of independence, up till the later 1970s, we were faced with the threat of a communist insurgency (described as an Emergency, but according to some historians, a civil war given an euphemistic name to avoid causing jitters in the commercial establishment).

When top-ranking national police officers and British High Commissioners are being picked off by terrorists, you've got to admit that it might be handy to have a law permitting the police to detain someone without charging them with any crime.

Indeed, that's exactly what countries like the United States and United Kingdom are doing right now in order to combat terrorism. While I have my doubts about the efficacy of these measures, they do provide for the police to temporarily detain people without charging them with anything (although they do force the police to get a court order for slightly extended periods of time).

But here's the rub folks: they only do it temporarily. If the police can't find anything to charge you with, they have to let you go after a set period of time. There is no leeway for infinite renewals of your detention order. And even while you are in jail, you will generally have access to legal counsel.

What happens in Malaysia? Apparently a comment posted on a blog constitutes an official secret posing a grave threat to national security — a threat so grave that the blog owner has to be held for 14 days (though the judge wisely reduced it to 4) for questioning, and denied access to legal counsel for most of the time — even in court proceedings.

But what happens if the government doesn't like you for some reason? No problem — all it has to do is detain you under the Internal Security Act. The Home Minister can renew your detention order ad infinitum so that you spend decades in jail. You don't need access to lawyers because you probably won't appear before a judge, detentions under the Act being free of judicial review.

Tell me, do we really need all this bullshit to keep us safe from terrorism? Do we need an Official Secrets Act worded so terribly that anything a Minister wants kept secret becomes a secret, regardless of its value to the public or its lack of importance to national security?

Do we need an Internal Security Act that allows the government to lock up anyone it doesn't like and throw away the key, without even a peep from the courts?

What is wrong with an OSA that is tightly phrased to ensure only secrets related to national security are kept secret? What is wrong with an ISA that only permits temporary detentions and allows the courts to examine the legality and justice of a detention?

Malaysians truly deserve neither liberty nor safety, and that is exactly what is happening. We are so constrained by censorship that we dare not even say what we think, and yet we can't even sleep soundly at night.

We have to abolish or amend the ISA. We have to promote accountability and transparency in the government — why let the government proclaim toll tariffs an official secret?

Is this truly necessary for our safety? Must we tolerate such blatant infractions and infringements of what our Constitution itself states to be "fundamental liberties"? Do we really need these draconian laws to keep us safe?

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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Quoth the webserver...
An aversion to nationalism is fully compatible with a deep attachment to national traditions. But the fact that I prefer and feel reverence for some of the traditions of my society need not be the cause of hostility to what is strange and different.
— Friedrich Hayek