TL;DR – Boys and girls, let’s learn about preventive detention, RO and SO.
Ever so often, supporters to repeal the act will question the fairness and relevance of the Internal Security Act (ISA). Each time, the Singapore Government will reaffirm that relevance and importance of the act. In fact, the G has defended its stance in the face of increasingly challenging security landscape. Can’t really argue with that, since terrorist-linked incidents have been happening way too often, and they’re hitting closer and closer to home. Many now say, it’s only a matter of time for Singapore.
So right, the latest is that the ISA has rounded up some men… and so we can expect the ISA discussion to start buzzing yet again.
Meanwhile, let’s find out more about the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Q: What is the Internal Security Act (ISA)?
The Internal Security Act (ISA) is one of the laws that allows the Government to act against dangers to the safety and security of Singapore.
Q: What does the ISA allow the Government to do?
The Internal Security Act (ISA) is a law that allows the Government to stop illegal groups that can harm the internal security of Singapore from forming and growing.
In an emergency, the ISA allows the Government to quickly declare that an area is under a security threat and control it with measures to ensure public safety. The ISA is used by the Internal Security Department (IDS) to investigate security threats like international terrorism, foreign subversion, espionage and acts of violence or hatred using race or religion. The ISA’s powers let the Government act promptly and decisively against dangers to the security of Singapore and our people.
Q: Does the ISA mean only ‘preventive detention’?
One of the main powers granted by the ISA is preventive detention. It allows the government to detain an individual who is suspected of being a threat to Singapore’s internal security for a maximum period of 30 days. Thereafter, an Order of Detention has to be issued in order to extend the detention period to a maximum of two years.
But other than preventive detention, a Restriction Order can be issued instead.
Q: What are the different types of detention orders under the ISA?
This means that the ISA allows the Government to detain a person who poses an active threat to Singapore without going to court for a period of up to two years. This is a ‘unique’ feature of the ISA, and is also often a point of contention. The G claims that ‘Preventive detention’ under the ISA is used only as a last resort.
Alternatively, instead of detaining the person, the Minister may make orders restricting the person’s activities and places of residence and employment; imposing curfews; requiring the person to notify the authorities of his or her movements; and prohibiting him or her from addressing public meetings; from holding office in, taking part in the activities of, or acting as adviser to, any organization or association; from taking part in political activities; or from travelling to any part of Singapore or abroad. This is called the Restriction Order (RO).
Q: What is a Suspension Order?
A Suspension Direction (SD) is a Ministerial direction to suspend the operation of an existing Order of Detention (OD). The Minister of for Home Affairs may revoke the SD and the individual will be re-detained, if he does not comply with any of the conditions stipulated in the SD. Among the conditions are that he is prohibited from associating with any militant or terrorist groups or individuals, and he is not allowed to leave the country without the prior written approval of the Director, ISD.
Q: When is the ISA power of preventive detention used?
The power of preventive detention in the ISA is used when prosecution is not practical and the threat is real and must be dealt with.
Some reasons why prosecution might not be practical are:
• The identity of witnesses may be exposed and they may be put in danger.
• Secret sources of intelligence or undercover investigations may be exposed.
• Relationships with other countries may be affected (in spy cases).
• Racial and religious feelings may be provoked in a prolonged trial.
Whenever possible, the Government will charge and prosecute an ISA offender under another related law.The use of preventive detention must fit the threat.
The ISA is a powerful law and even though it is used to protect our national security, it is recognised that the individuals detained have their normal rights of a trial suspended. The Government is well aware of this. Thus, the ISA is used sparingly and only when there is no better option.
Q: Is there any check on the use of the ISA?
The President of the Republic of Singapore has veto power over preventive detentions. This means the President has the power to reject the Government’s proposal to detain someone if the ISA Advisory Board is also against the detention.