Unjust Order: Malaysia's Internal Security Act

93 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2003

See all articles by Nicole Fritz

Nicole Fritz

University of the Witwatersrand - School of Law

Martin S. Flaherty

Fordham Law School


This Report represents the culmination of a year-long project undertaken by the Joseph R. Crowley Program in International Human Rights to examine the use and impact of the Malaysian Internal Security Act (ISA) in light of international law obligations. The ISA permits indefinite detention without trial: the first sixty days of this detention are typically at the initiation of police authorities (under Section 73), and subsequent two-year periods occur at the authorization and renewal of the Minister of Home Affairs (under Section 8). The law has existed almost as long as Malaysian independence and has been used to delegitimize generations of political opposition and silence those considered "deviant" or "subversive" by the government. The arrests and detentions of ten individuals all prominently associated with the political party, KeADILan, constitute particularly egregious misuse of the ISA. More recently, the government has used fears of terrorism as an added justification for the ISA, prompting suspicions that the arrests of large numbers of alleged Islamic militants are also spuriously motivated. The Report documents the substantial and pervasive State-driven or sponsored violations of the rights of ISA detainees, including: the arbitrary arrest and detention of suspects; the alleged failure to provide adequate access to legal counsel; the absence of any effective forms of review of arrest and detention, or of the conditions in which detainees are kept; and the infliction of intolerable conditions of detention and treatment, that if not torture (and sometimes it is), nonetheless systematically exceeds the point at which treatment becomes cruel, inhuman and degrading. As this Report documents, ISA related violations are not limited to detainees: their families suffer harassment, as do lawyers and any other organizations (such as NGOs) willing to act on their behalf; and the rare judge who upholds the habeas corpus application of an ISA detainee is likely to suffer punitive and retaliatory measures by the government. In the result, an unduly deferential and compliant judiciary has emerged; space in which civil society operates is severely narrowed; and individuals wanting to express opposition to the government do so at considerable personal risk.

Suggested Citation

Fritz, Nicole and Flaherty, Martin S., Unjust Order: Malaysia's Internal Security Act. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=447802 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.447802

Nicole Fritz

University of the Witwatersrand - School of Law ( email )

2050 Johannesburg
South Africa
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Martin S. Flaherty (Contact Author)

Fordham Law School ( email )

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Room 212
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United States
212-636-6857 (Phone)
212-636-6775 (Fax)

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