Malaysia’s widely loathed Internal Securities Act (ISA) has in recent years been justified by police and politicians alike as necessary for national security. Given this country’s ability to produce the Islamic militants who fed al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), those arguments have been begrudgingly accepted.
Occasionally, however, other uses are made of the ISA, which raise barely a whimper despite granting police dubious powers of detention.
Few—if any—are leaping to the defence of Muhammad Akan Ali Mohammad, the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu who reckons he should control much of East Malaysia, the Southern Philippines, and perhaps a spot of Indonesia as well.
Initially, Akan was treated as something of a local joke and understandably dismissed. However, the authorities and ordinary Malaysians were far less impressed when it was learned he had drummed up support for his claim to the ancient throne from the Abu Sayyaf Group and JI.
ISA has apparently been used ‘to facilitate police investigation into his alleged involvement with terrorist groups, besides his alleged “dual citizenship” i.e. Malaysian citizenship and the Sulu/Tausug citizenship.’
He was recently detained on one of his properties near Kota Kinabalu after Special Branch put him on their radar in the wake of his February 2 coronation in the backyard of a kampong home, where he also established his government in exile.
As covered in this column previously, it’s a very messy issue that plays on sovereign claims in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and to a lesser extent Jakarta. The Philippines doesn’t recognize Malaysian sovereignty over Sabah on the northern tip of Borneo.
To side-step this awkward diplomatic impasse, Malaysia pays a peppercorn annual rent for Sabah to Esmail Dalus Kiram II, recognised by Manila as the rightful Sultan of Sulu.As such, the emergence of Akan with his links to conflict-ridden Mindanao fast became a serious issue. His own claims would encompass the Sulu Sea, chunks of the Southern Philippines and north Borneo as an independent kingdom.
A magistrate court has granted police an application and extended his remand to further their investigations, and Akan admitted before the court that he understood the rationale behind his arrest due to the ‘seriousness of the matter.’
However, he also threatened to drag Prime Minister Najib Razak into the dispute after cryptically claiming he only acted in the interests of the nation and was in a position to explain himself.
It wasn’t Akan’s first brush with ISA. In the mid 1990s, he was arrested and detained after allegedly being caught with 2,000 identification cards that were apparently being sold to Filipino illegal immigrants in East Malaysia for up to $1,000 each.
Normally, the deployment of ISA by police is enough to mobilize human rights activists into protest mode. In Akan’s case, however, the critics of ISA have been quiet. Nor has anyone been too upset by speculation that Akan’s cabinet in exile has been blacklisted from entering Malaysia.