The Reform Party Raises Questions and Calls for the Replacement of the ISA by Modern Anti-Terrorism Legislation

November 27, 2010

The Reform Party refers to the statement made by Minister Shanmugam in Parliament regarding the Mas Selamat case and wishes to make the following points:

  • There continues to be a complete lack of accountability for the unacceptable security lapses demonstrated by Mas Selamat’s escape to Malaysia. The latest revelations are even more shocking as the government is unable to explain how he was able to spend the night at his brother’s flat undetected. One would have thought that would be the first place to watch if a dangerous suspect escapes from custody. Where did he go from the 27th to the 29th? How was he able to pass through Singapore immigration and customs undetected?
  • Instead of the Minister taking responsibility for the security lapses we have the brother’s family all pleading guilty and being sentenced without a trial. It would have been better if the public could have heard more about how Mas Selamat was able to come to their flat and then leave without surveillance. This also raises questions about whether they were given adequate access to legal advice and ability to engage legal representation before they decided to plead guilty.
  • While the Reform Party in no way condones the crime of providing assistance to a fugitive, we need to bear in mind that Mas Selamat has not yet been charged with any crime. This may have had some bearing on the family’s willingness to provide him with aid.
  • According to Minister Shanmugam, “Mas Selamat is a hardened and dangerous terrorist, who has been involved in various plots by the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to mount terrorist attacks in Singapore since the 1990s. He is operationally trained and has undergone training not once but twice in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.” However the lackadaisical response of the security services does not reassure about how they would fare if there was a determined attempt at a terrorist attack. If he is a hardened and dangerous terrorist why were greater efforts not made to recapture him?
  • There appears to be no correlation between the sweeping powers given to the government under our Internal Security Act (ISA) and the effectiveness of our security services in preventing terrorism.
  • The Reform Party takes the threat of terrorism very seriously. That is why we demand accountability for the lapses revealed here. However we also believe in due process and the rule of law. The right to hear the evidence against you and to a fair trial is a fundamental human right and a fundamental legal principle dating back to 1214 and Magna Carta. These rights should only be abrogated in the most extreme circumstances such as a state of war or national emergency.  
  • While being committed to the abolition of ISA the Reform Party would introduce new laws to deal with the threat of terrorism. These could include similar provisions to those in the UK Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. These provide for control orders to be issued which can restrict a person’s movements, contacts, and access to communications technology while being compatible with international conventions on human rights.
  • In addition the Reform Party would examine the introduction of a range of new offences to deal specifically with terrorism. These would include, among others, the giving or receiving of terrorist training whether in Singapore or abroad, preparation of terrorist attacks, being at a place where terrorist training was being conducted, possession of material to be used in a terrorist attack, the possession and dissemination of instructional manuals  and incitement to commit acts of terrorism.  All these offences should carry lengthy prison sentences. Presumably, if Mas Selamat had received terrorist training abroad as he is alleged to have done, he could have been prosecuted for this offence had it existed rather than it being necessary to detain him indefinitely.
  • Instead of the unlimited detention powers of the ISA the Reform Party would strike a balance between a suspect’s habeas corpus rights and the ruthless nature of modern terrorism aiming at mass and indiscriminate killing. We suggest that the police should be able to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days after which they would either have to be charged or released.
  • The Reform Party does not believe the terrorist threat is connected to any particular religious or racial community and deplores any attempt, whether implied or otherwise, to single out any community for blame. The prevention of terrorism and the apprehension of suspects remains the responsibility of all Singaporeans.
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