Malaysia activists mount legal challenge


KUALA LUMPUR, AFP

Five Malaysian opposition activists began a court challenge on Monday to their detention without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA).

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defended the act, telling reporters it had “served us well.”

The five, who were not present and were represented by lawyers, suffered a temporary setback when the judge disqualified himself after being told that his brother would lead the government legal team in the hearing.

High Court Judge Abdul Wahab Patail said he would not hear the habeas corpus applications because he “did not want the issue of family to creep and cloud the case”.

A new judge will Tuesday hear the writs against police chief Norian Mai seeking habeas corpus — a British legal maxim dating back to the 17th century under which someone can be brought to court to investigate whether he or she is legally detained.

The ISA — originally designed to fight a communist rebellion half a century ago — allows indefinite detention without trial.

The five are among seven supporters of jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim who were held last week.

The aim of the authorities’ actions was to derail a rally last Saturday marking the second anniversary of Anwar’s conviction for abuse of power.

Anwar, who is serving 15 years in jail after being convicted in separate trials of abuse of power and sodomy, says he was framed to avert a political challenge to Mahathir, a charge which authorities deny.

Lawyers said the other two detainees would file habeas corpus applications elsewhere.

Mahathir has said activists plan to use explosives and weapons in street demonstrations to topple his government.

On Monday he said the ISA arrests thwarted plans for a violent protest last Saturday.

“A lot of people have expressed happiness over the ISA because it has helped us avoid turmoil as in other countries,” Mahathir said.

“I think police nipped them in the bud by taking in the culprits.”

There was no need now to review the act, which “has served us well,” Mahathir said.

“At the moment some people think if they cannot win through the ballot box then they should try other means to overthrow the government.”

Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who heads the National Justice Party, said police should substantiate their claims of planned violence.

“If not, release the detainees or allow them to defend themselves in an open court,” she told AFP.

Between 2,000-3,000 people gathered peacefully Saturday outside the human rights commission as a memorandum on rights abuses was handed in.

Bahirah Tajul Aris, wife of detainee Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor, said her three children, aged three to eight, were crying for their father.

“I told them he has been taken by the police. My four-year-old son is asking whether the police are beating their father,” she told AFP.

Bahirah said she had made two unsuccessful appeals to Norian to meet her husband.

Home Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has said detainees will not be physically ill-treated. Bahirah said she was not convinced.

Roslija Syed, wife of Abdul Ghani Harun, said their five children aged five to 14 also missed their father.

“I tell them, your father is fighting for reforms — to ensure your rights in the future. They say they are proud to have a father like that.”

Opposition leaders deny that supporters of the reform movement sparked by Anwar’s 1998 arrest plan violence to topple the government.

Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, has described the assertions as “incredible lies” and “fairy tales.”