The Great Escape of Mas Selamat Kastari – Revisiting ISA

11 Mar

Mas Selamat Kastari, the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiah, who has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Singapore, was reported to have escaped the high security Whitley Road Detention Center while he was in the restroom before a scheduled visit with his family.

As soon as news of his prison outbreak was made public, the Singapore blogosphere greeted the incident with alarm and disdain.

Alex Au, in Asia Times, calls into question the ‘security arrangements’ of Singapore and whether ‘Western allies can and should depend on them’.1 while Gerald Giam felt the Singapore government was not transparent enough and professed his doubts on the credibility of the panel in the independent commission which had been set up to investigate the escape. Like the former commentator, Gerald believed that Singapore’s ‘international reputation for security and competence’ has suffered due to this incident.2Andrew Loh, in another piece for online citizen, criticized the leadership, in particular, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong for being silent on this issue. He wrote unflatteringly,‘His leadership at a time like this is crucial.’3A cursory glimpse from responses by other bloggers, aggregated by online citizen, revealed similar sentiments. Deen Yusof wrote, “Since he escaped, shouldn’t the Commisioner give a “Shoot at Sight” order? For the safety of the people?” . Concurrently, Chemical Generation demanded openness. He lamented that, ‘the government was open about the arrest of JI members in the past, and ISD should be open about its horrifying lapses when the time comes soon.’

Based on the immediate responses, the Singaporean bloggers, in general, tend to share two common assumptions.

Firstly, Mas Selamat Kastari is a dangerous criminal who will endanger Singapore’s security, and has indirectly tarnished the country’s reputation; and that, the Singapore government needs to re-arrest him soon, and be held accountable for this incident.

The flurry of comments, whether, from reputable writers like Alex Au or anonymous bloggers such as Chemical Generation, however, reflected the most disturbing assumption generally agreed upon – the assumption that Mas Selamat Kastari is guilty as charge. This is despite the fact that the man has been held in prison under the ISA, a legislation which allows indefinite detention without trial.

By making the assumption that Mas Selamat Kastari is guilty and taking the government’s words at face value that this is a dangerous man at large, the Singapore blogosphere is indirectly agreeing that it is perfectly acceptable to detain someone without a due process of court, and that human rights can be sacrificed for the perceived good of social stability. To stretch this logic further, the Singapore blogosphere is comfortable with and believe that the war on terror is one that can be won even at the expense of eroding human rights.

If anything, the escape of Mas Selamat Kastari should have opened a window of debate for the Singapore blogosphere, not to indulge in rumour mongering, finger-pointing or conspiracy theories, but rather, to re-ignite the controversy of the draconian ISA legislation. The fuss should not be about the great escape but why we need to do away with ISA.


1. Suspicions over Singapore jailbreak, Asia Times Online, 8 March 2008, Alex Au

2. Escape has yet to dent govt’s hubris, theonlinecitizen, 6 March 2008, Gerald Giam

3. Has our Prime Minister gone missing too?, theonlinecitizen, 5 March 2008, Andrew Loh

4. Mas Selamat wants to watch the Olympics too!, 29 February 2008, Deen Yusof

5. An Apology Means Little Until the Escaped Terrorist is Caught, 28 February 2008, Chemical Generation


6 Responses to “The Great Escape of Mas Selamat Kastari – Revisiting ISA”

  1. Weijia March 12, 2008 at 3:53 pm #

    Excellent piece. i’ve gotta admit that i have yet to think about this issue

  2. rodado March 12, 2008 at 6:58 pm #

    That is why the local media did not concentrate extensively on the use of ISA on the alleged terrorist. They keep on mentioning about his alleged activities and his plans to blow things up in Singapore. In early news reports after the escape, the media keep hammering these few points whenever they mentioned his name.

    It is to create the perception that his alleged and planned terrorist activities would deserve to be detained under ISA. The local media is being used to mess up the minds of the people. There are more people who will take things at face value. Those, like you, who question the lack of evidence, are not convinced by mere words from the state-controlled media. The old man would want his ISA kept intact at all cost.

  3. feedmetothefish March 12, 2008 at 9:20 pm #

    Yes, it so damned sad that ISD is taken so much for granted.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    In uniquely Singapore, whatever the MM – Main Man- or mintsters say. the main stream media will doggedly follow up with it until it becomes the gospel truth!

  4. celluloidrealitys March 13, 2008 at 2:20 am #

    I’m a libertarian but I draw the line at such criminals.

    However, I’m for tweaking the ISA to allow for fixed periods of detention and renewable warrants for detention to be secured before future detention.

  5. joni March 13, 2008 at 6:43 am #


    But how do we know he is a criminal? He has not been charged or brought to trial. This is the main point here – the ISA is used to detain people without any proof of the crimes.

  6. roger March 14, 2008 at 10:00 pm #

    In a country where FACE is everything this to me is a huge LOSS OF FACE . what where the LEE’S doing . I smell a very very big RAT .

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