Reform not Repeal the ISA
Reform the Internal Security Act in The Online Citizen is a good read. The argument on the need to have exceptional laws in exceptional circumstances is a balanced one. Very often we come across very extreme views on the ISA where there is the rabid anti-ISA mob on one hand, and the deranged ISA apologists on the other, both citing boring shallow arguments.
Donaldson’s thesis that the ISA is good only when it is not abused brings activists, lawmakers and the state to the table. Post-911, while most people buy the idea of the ISA used on the Jemaah Islamiah militants, the ghost of the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy still haunts Singapore. From the comments in his article, most people are rightfully cynical and fearful of the powers of detention the Singapore government has and they are unconvinced that the ISA would not be abused.
ISA detainees already have legal representation e.g. prominent criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan defended one Jemaah Islamiah militant. Despite the freely used criticism of “detention without trial”, the ISA hearing is actually already a closed-door trial presided over by a Supreme Court judge. Hence, even though those detained under the ISA have rights and subject to due process, people choose to see it as a kangaroo court maybe because they want to see it as a kangaroo court. The relevance of the ISA as an exceptional law therefore hinges on whether people perceive the ISA to be justly used. Any law can be abused but yet we don’t call for the repeal of every law simply because they can be abused. Instead, the parts where the law can be abused should be reviewed and amended while the spirit of that law to protect people and property is intact.
The selling breakthrough idea brought up along the way in Donaldson’s article is that the ISA should be for an arbitrary maximum of 6 months for locals and 2 years for foreigners, and in that time, the government has to build up a case for a court trial. The different time frame is to deter foreigners from conducting activities threatening Singapore. Furthermore, if no evidence is gathered and witnesses still not persuaded to take the stand, then those detained under the ISA have to be released. This debate over detention and trial technicalities sounds like a good starting point for the pro and anti-ISA stakeholders to retain but reform the ISA.