SINGAPORE, Sept 24, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore has rejected a call by former political prisoners to scrap a British colonial law allowing detention without trial, saying it allows the government to fight serious security threats.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said the former detainees were held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for "subversive" activities and not for their political beliefs.
The ministry's reaction, posted on its website Friday, came after 16 former ISA detainees this month wrote a rare public message demanding the abolition of the law after neighbouring Malaysia vowed to repeal similar legislation.
The ISA has been denounced by critics in Singapore and Malaysia as a tool to stifle dissent, but the city-state's home ministry said the law was necessary to fight threats to national security such as terrorism.
"These 16 ex-detainees were not detained for their political beliefs, but because they had involved themselves in subversive activities which posed a threat to national security," the ministry said.
Nine of them were "actively involved" in communist activities "committed to the violent overthrow of the constitutionally-elected governments in Singapore and Malaysia" in the 1960s and 1970s.
It said they infiltrated trade unions and student organisations and instigated labour strikes and demonstrations to create conditions necessary for a communist revolution.
Seven of them were involved in a "Marxist plot to subvert and destabilise Singapore" in the 1980s, the ministry added.
The ISA, first implemented by Britain after World War II to fight communist insurgents in colonies collectively known as Malaya, was retained by Singapore after it became independent from the Malaysian federation in 1965.
Calls for Singapore to abolish the ISA emerged after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced earlier this month that his government would repeal it.
Singapore said however the ISA remains relevant because of threats from extremist groups and "self-radicalised" individuals.