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    Updated on Thursday, March 21, 2002 9:32 PM

Bar Council slams Rais for invoking ISA in UTM's fire case

Susan Loone,malaysiakini
7:41pm Mon Mar 18th, 2002

The Bar Council today chided de facto Law Minister Dr Rais Yatim for invoking the Internal Security Act on suspected arsonists who torched University Teknologi Malaysia's Dewan Sultan Iskandar in Skudai, Johor.

Bar Council chairperson Mah Weng Kwai said the ISA was not meant merely "to prevent chaos".

Mah said the relevance of the controversial ISA has become "increasingly difficult to justify" as its
original purpose to combat the communist insurgency has long been obsolete.

"The lack of similarity between the threat to national security by communist insurgents and the alleged arsonists in respect of the said UTM Dewan is abundantly clear," he said in the press statement.

Last week, Rais, who is also the minister in the Prime Minister's Department, said that if arson could be proven, then the matter was not merely a case of arson but of sabotaging national interests, destroying government property and smearing its image.

The hall is often used for several important functions, including the university's convocation
which was to be held last Saturday.

Rais, who said this after presenting the Bakti study grants to 25 students in UTM, said the ISA could be used against those responsible for the sabotage as it is meant to ensure public order and security.

Damage caused by the fire, believed to have occurred between Thursday night and Friday morning, is estimated at RM200,000.

Ample provisions

According to the Bar Council chairperson, the ISA cannot be invoked for the purpose of carrying out police investigations.

Mah said that such investigation should done before a decision is made to charge the suspected arsonists.

He added there were ample provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code to enable the authorities to arrest, remand and investigate alleged offenders.

"Such laws provide the necessary safeguards for due process. If the ISA is used to detain the suspected arsonists, they will be denied their fundamental rights of access to legal counsel and preventive detention without trial.

This, said Mah, is a "situation simply void of any justification".

Mah called for the repeal of the controversial ISA as it was consistent with judicial observations that abuses under the ISA must be prevented or minimised.

He said the 10,000-strong Bar Council regretted Rais' statement which indicated that the government wanted to persist in resorting to the use of the ISA in disregard of other available statutory provisions.

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