Recently, a 16-year-old Singaporean made headlines for being the youngest person to be dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities. The boy, a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, became self-radicalised after watching live-streamed videos of the Christchurch mosque attacks and reading the manifesto of the Christchurch attacker.
The ISA is undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most controversial pieces of legislation. The government has argued that the ISA is still relevant because it allows the authorities to act promptly and swiftly against elements that are threatening the nation’s security, such as in the recent case mentioned above. On the other hand, opposition parties are concerned that the expansive powers of the ISA make it susceptible to misuse as a tool to suppress political dissidents. They believe that the ISA should be repealed and replaced with a more specific anti-terrrorism law which would allow the police to deal with terrorists while preventing politically-motivated arrests from taking place.
Whether you support the ISA or think it should be repealed, here are six things you should know about this mysterious Act:
1. We got it from Malaysia.
That’s right—just like Giant Hypermarket, the ISA is from Malaysia. The ISA was originally enacted by the Parliament of Malaysia with the aim of deterring communist activity during the Malayan Emergency. Later, the ISA was extended to Singapore when Singapore joined the federation of Malaysia in 1963. After separation, the ISA remained in Singapore’s legislation.
2. Chapter II of Part II confers the powers of ‘preventive detention’ (also known as “detention without trial”) on the government.
The power of preventive detention is probably the most well-known feature of the ISA. Pursuant to Part II, Chapter II of the ISA, the Minister for Home Affairs may detain any individual who is suspected of being a threat to Singapore’s internal security for up to 30 days.Thereafter, the Minister may extend the detention period to a maximum of two years by issuing an Order of Detention (subject to the approval of the President of Singapore). Furthermore, the President may extend the period of this Order for up to 2 years at a time.
3. The ISA also allows the government to impose the following restrictions may be imposed upon someone who is not detained (if he is suspected of being a threat to Singapore’s internal security):
- Restrictions with respect to his/her daily activities, place of residence, place of employment;
- Prohibitions on being outdoors during certain hours of the day;
- The requirement to notify the authorities of his movements;
- Prohibitions from addressing public meetings or taking part in political activities;
- Prohibitions from travelling beyond the limits of Singapore (or part of Singapore, if so specified).
4. You retain certain rights even when detained under the ISA.
According to an MHA handbook, “although a person detained under the ISA loses his freedom, he still keeps very important rights.”
These rights are:
- The right to be informed in writing, within 14 days of being given the Order of Detention, the grounds on which he has been detained;
- The right to argue against the Order of Detention to the ISA Advisory Board;
- The right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice, or by any other person he may choose;
- The right to have his family members be informed of their detention, and be assisted by a family support and liaison officer. Detainees are not held in secret detention;
- Although visits might be denied during investigations, after 30 days, the detainee has the right to see family visitors regularly and also lawyers to prepare his case before the Advisory Board;
- The right to observe his religious obligations For instance, food must be appropriate to his religious requirements.
A Board of Inspection may also make unannounced visits to the detention centre to make sure the detainee is well. The Board of Inspection has to report any ill-treatment of the detainee and this report is sent to the Minister for Home Affairs. Detainees are also examined by doctors before and after each time they are interviewed by the investigators in order to ensure their well-being. A detainee may also ask for a doctor at any time.
Last week, the Internal Security Department (ISD) also opened up to shed light on the rehabilitation process. Giving an overview of its rehabilitation strategy, ISD said it takes a holistic, intensive and long-term approach customised to individual cases. It involves three components: religious, psychological and social.
5. The ISA covers more than just preventive detention.
Other powers of the ISA include: the prosecution of those who spread false information to cause public alarm, the closure of schools or educational institutions used for purposes detrimental to Singapore’s interests, and the authorisation of security forces to take all necessary measures, including those “dangerous or fatal to human life” to secure certain protected areas.
6. The ISA has been repealed in Malaysia.
Our ISA’s northern counterpart (and progenitor) passed into history in 2012, when it was repealed and replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.