Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Detention Without Trial: More Questions Than Answers

Last week, the Ministry of Home Affairs revealed that it has detained without trial a law professional, Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader, on suspicion of terrorist activities since February 2007.

I met Abdul Basheer once about three years ago, when I was introduced to him by a mutual friend. He struck me as a passionate person with an interest for softer issues in society. He also had strong views on some matters, and was someone who knew what he wanted out of his career in law.

In fact, during law school, Abdul Basheer wrote a paper, "The Status of Refugee Children in Human Rights Law – New Bearings for a Common Destination", which was supervised by the current Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann.

But, according to my friend, Abdul Basheer "changed radically two years ago", and what has happened to him now comes as no surprise to my friend. My friend did not elaborate.

As such, I am taking a more than casual interest in this case. At this juncture for me, this case raises more questions than provides answers, since very little has been said about such issues:

1. Why did it take the Ministry of Home Affairs some 4 months since the detention of Abdul Basheer to publicly disclose such information about him?

2. The Ministry of Home Affairs has made various statements concerning the activities of Abdul Basheer. In summary, he had accessed various questionable material on the internet, wanted to learn Arabic and had even bought a ticket to Pakistan. Are these adequate and reasonable grounds to detain a person without trial or did the Ministry of Home Affairs act on pure suspicion?

3. Perhaps, what is different in this situation is that according to the Ministryof Home Affairs is that he had "militant jihad plans" and wanted "to make contact with a militant group - the Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) - that could help him train for 'militant jihad' and to cross over into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban". But then what is the evidence that the internal security team gathered against Abdul Basheer, which conclusively show that he had the motive "to wage 'militant jihad' in a land where Muslims were under attack"? Or is the Ministry of Home Affairs going behind the protective veil of the Internal Security Act so that it has no compelling need to reveal the body of evidence, which prompted authorities to act against Abdul Basheer?

4. Several persons have been quick to blame the new media for Abdul Basheer's plight. Was this the pivotal factor or could there have been other more compelling reasons? What really prompted a promising spark of Singapore's ethnic minority community to focus on such causes?

5. How are his loved ones reacting to this arrest? Do they welcome the arrest as a necessary move or are protesting the perceived unilateral move made by the Ministry of Home Affairs?

6. How is Abdul Basheer being dealt with in detention?

These are questions that I hope others are asking too.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?


chemgen said...

Good questions.

The government might not want to reveal evidence openly so as to protect the sources - the usual line they give on ISA cases. It is convincing to an extent.

But there should be more indirect assurances. Perhaps NMPs and MPs (especially the opposition ones) can be briefed on the case. So there is the balance in the sense that while details might not be shared with the public, the same details can however be shared with the people's representatives who are bound by the OSA then not to reveal what they heard behind closed doors.

The Internet is being blamed for turning Abdul into a terrorist. There is significant research into this. But I also think that reading articles from the Internet alone cannot turn one into a terrorist. It is too reductive. The government's reasoning here is flawed unless they know something that they are not telling.

Anonymous said...

The government might not want to reveal evidence openly so as to protect the sources - the usual line they give on ISA cases. It is convincing to an extent.

Any "sources" or "evidence" that cannot be tabled in the open and stand up to public scrutiny is as good as fabricated evidence.

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chemgen said...

Hi Anonymous 11:37 pm

I share your strong views to an extent. But it is only an extent as nothing is black and white and there are always grey areas in reality.

In sex crimes where the victim is underaged, the details of the case are not "public" to protect the victim. Does it mean that the evidence is fabricated? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that evidence can be veiled from public view for certain specific reasons if there is a supposed greater good.

In the case of the ISA, from what the government is claiming, evidence is shielded from the wider public so that sources would not feel threatened if their identities are publicly revealed, especially if these informants are still in place. Would we want a situation where nobody would dare to stand up as witness in court? But how do we know if the evidence is solid or flimsy or worse, fabricated?

We do not want to believe what the government tells us and we want some sort of accountability and assurance. Yet we should also understand to an extent that the government needs to keep certain information as closed as possible. For example, do we expect the government to reveal the specific (not general) capabilities and limitations of the SAF? I presume not. No respectable military would.

This is where the untapped role of MPs, NMPs and the sole NCMP come in as they are the people's representatives in parliament. A tentative meeting of interests can take place, until something better comes along. MPs, NMPs and the NCMP should be the added check and balance in ISA cases and they are the thin blue line between accountablity and abuse. And if they give an OK, then I am more inclined (not totally inclined as some amount of skepticism is always healthy) to accept it as well. The ISA need not be transparent or opaque. Translucent is the way to go, for now.

Anonymous said...

The article 'Don’t Count Your Conspiracies Before They Are Hatched' on http://www.asiasentinel.com makes for an interesting read.

Anonymous said...

chemgen, I disagree with you. We don't have to look too far south and see how Indonesia deals with its terrorists in an open and transparent manner. There is a due process in place. Right now the ISA sweeps everything away from view and Singaporeans are asked to have blind faith in the system. And the system supposedly does things in the interest of Singapore. Is this really the case? Who gave Basheer up? Did US intelligence play a part? Are we doing Uncle Sam's bidding again?

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia states that Abdul Basheer was released February 2010. I cannot recall the media in Singapore reporting on it? Can someone please verify the wikipedia statement?


Anonymous said...

Never mind. I found the link verifying his release at