Singapore debates Internal Security Act, following Malaysia repeal

Updated On: Sep 20, 2011

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib's announcement that he would repeal his country's Internal Security Act and replace them with new laws has sparked debate in neighbouring Singapore about whether it should follow suit.

In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee told Malaysian journalists that Singapore would 'seriously consider' abolishing its ISA if Malaysia were to do so. However, on Friday the Government announced that it would not scrap its ISA as it had not been used in the same ways as Malaysia, and was still necessary "as a measure of last resort."

The Ministry of Home Affairs also noted that Singapore had introduced an additional safeguard to prevent the misuse of the ISA in 1991. However, on Tuesday, 16 former detainees, some of whom were detained for up to 20 years each, signed a statement arguing that the safeguards were spurious and that the ISA needed to be reviewed.


Report: Former detainees call for abolition of Internal Security Act  (The Straits Times, 20 September 2011)


According to the MHA, a person arrested under the ISA in Singapore may be held in custody for up to 30 days, after which a Detention or Restriction Order must be issued or else the person must be released unconditionally. In Malaysia, the period of custody is double - up to 60 days. In addition, in Singapore, the President can veto the government's decision.

Eugene Tan, Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, notes that in Singapore, "there isn't the mistrust and fear of abuse by the government that characterises the Malaysian situation," of the ISA, he also stresses that "securing political buy-in for the ISA's retention remains an imperative."

Opposition parties including the Singapore Democratic Party and Worker's Party have called for a review of the act.

In addition to the ISA, Malaysia repealed several media laws on Thursday, which also exist in Singapore. However, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts has stood by the act, saying that it ensures that “the media operating in Singapore play a responsible role and that publishers are accountable for the content they publish.”

Singapore's NPAA allows the government to grant annual licenses to publishing houses, and restrict foreign media.


Those approved by the government can be issued management shares, which gives them greater voting power than ordinary shares.

Media analyst Cherian George noted Malaysia was responding to many years of lobbying, and that there have been relatively few calls for the NPAA to be reviewed.

Report: ISA relevant to S'pore, crucial for national security: MHA (Channel News Asia, 16 September 2011)

Report: 'Newspaper and Printing Presses Act Still Valid' (Yahoo News, 17 September 2011)

Analysis: Selling Singaporeans on the ISA  (Today Online, 19 September 2011)

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