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Thursday, 20 October 2011

DPM Teo: ISA key to fighting threats

The Internal Security Act (ISA) helps Singapore to tackle not just terrorism, but also other threats such as foreign subversion, espionage and racial agitation, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

"The ISA is a shield we need that protects us against these threats, allowing us to deal with them swiftly and effectively before they cause us serious and possibly permanent harm," he said in Parliament.

Mr Teo - who is Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs - said that the ISA remains relevant to Singapore as "threats to our national security can take various forms", quashing calls by several groups to abolish the Act.

He said that, under the ISA, there were seven cases of detention for espionage between 1991 and last year, one of which was subsequently charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Mr Teo also cited an example of subversion carried out against the Government by the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) when it was active here.

He noted that, of those arrested for communist-related activities, "all were eventually released, and most have re-integrated into society".

He added that a few were detained longer because they had "adamantly" refused to renounce the use of violence.

Racial and religious extremism was also dealt with under the ISA, but Mr Teo stressed that these cases were "calibrated to the circumstances of the time".

While those who provoke ethnic violence will be prosecuted, those who are "insensitive or offensive but unlikely to provoke ethnic violence" are usually not detained.

Instead, they are let off with a warning after an interview with the Internal Security Department, Mr Teo said.

"The Government has used the ISA as a last resort when there is a significant threat, and other laws are not adequate to deal with the situation," he explained.

On suggestions to replace the ISA with a Terrorism Act, Mr Teo ruled this out, unless the Act is "very broad in scope and provides for preventive detention, just like the ISA".

He said: "A Terrorism Act would not allow pre-emptive action against those who have not yet committed overt deeds that warrant prosecution, but nevertheless belong to a wider terrorist network."

With the ISA, the Government was able to systematically uncover the Jemaah Islamiah network here in 2001, even though not all of its members were engaged actively in terrorist operations, said Mr Teo.

The Sept 11 attacks have also showed that when dealing with suicide-attackers, prevention is a greater imperative, compared to prosecution after the fact, he said.

Mr Teo added that the Act will serve as a preventive measure against new forms of terror threats, such as self-radicalised lone-wolf terrorists, which have emerged in recent years.

He cited the case of full-time national serviceman Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid, who was self-radicalised through the Internet and made contact with Al-Qaeda members last year.

"The ISA enabled the Government to detain him preventively, while he was doing his national service, just before he embarked on demolition training."

As a result, Singapore avoided exposure to "a high, perhaps unacceptable, degree of risk" and allowed the NSF to be assessed and rehabilitated, he explained.

"The consequence may not just be a loss of innocent lives, but also serious damage to intercommunal relations and trust," Mr Teo added.

And as for why calls to try terrorism cases in court went unanswered, Mr Teo said such trials would expose information that terrorists "could use to pursue their agenda".


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