(Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday): At this time tonight eleven years ago, I was already detained under the Internal Security Act as part of Operation Lalang, held somewhere at Sentul Police Station enroute to be taken to the detention centre at Batu for the first 60 days of interrogative custody under the ISA.
This was my second detention under the ISA. During my first detention under the ISA in 1969, Lim Guan Eng was very young, only eight years old. When I was detained the second time under the ISA, Guan Eng was big enough to accompany me during the ISA arrest and detention at Kamunting Detention Centre - and both of us were the last two of Operation Lalang detainees to be released by Mahathir.
Now, Guan Eng is now even bigger, and has gone to Kajang Prisons on his own - not because he had committed any crime of armed robbery, arson, rape or murder but because he courageously defended the honour, the women’s rights and human rights of a 15-year-old girl.
One important lesson of Operation Lalang is that the Internal Security Act is such an oppressive law that no one is spared. Regardless of opposition party, NGO, race, religion or beliefs, everyone can become victims of the detention-without-trial law of the ISA. In fact, even those in the ruling parties are not immune from the ISA, as the case of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is an eloquent proof.
This is why all human rights and justice-loving Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or party affiliation, should unite to demand the repeal of the ISA.
The ABIM representative rightly said just now the ISA is even more harsh and draconian than the original law passed by Parliament in 1960 to deal with militant communists as a result of a series of amendments. After the Operation Lalang, the ISA was amended to remove judicial review so that Ministerial abuses of power under the law cannot be checked by the courts.
In the past two months, we have seen how the ISA was being abused in new ways. For instance, Dr. Munawar, once’s Anwar’s speech writer, was first detained under the ISA and a few days later produced in court to plead guilty to a a charge under the Penal Code, which could under no circumstances be related to the security of the nation as to justify the use of the ISA.
Here we are seeing the ISA being used as a ‘catch-all’ law to give the Police time to consider what law they want to use against a detainee in police custody - a sort of "arrest first, and decide under what law later" - which is a clear abuse of the original intentions of the ISA.
Anwar Ibrahim is another case of the new-fangled abuse of the ISA. When Anwar was arrested on the night of Sept. 20, the police said that he would be produced in court the next day under various Penal Code charges. But the police did not produce Anwar in court the next day. Instead, the Police announced that Anwar was being detained under the ISA. How can the police change in midstream after arresting a person under the Penal Code and decide to detain him under the ISA instead? Or was this because Anwar Ibrahim had already been given a "black eye" and cannot be produced in court and had to be detained under the ISA?
The ISA is the "mother" of all draconian laws in the country, even more draconian than the rest of the arsenal of repressive laws like the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Police Act and the Sedition Act and the first step to remove the country from the cloud of oppressive laws is to repeal the ISA.
The repeal of ISA is the pre-condition to the restoration of justice and the rule of law in Malaysia. How can there be a check on the abuses of power by the government, whether selective prosecution by the Attorney-General or police brutalities against the people, if the "mother" of all repressive laws in the form of the ISA is still on the statute books?
The Gerak gathering tonight is not an electoral alliance for opposition parties to take on the Barisan Nasional in the next general elections. This is a national effort to unite all democratic forces in the country to ensure that the abolition of draconian laws, particularly the ISA, is a top priority in the next general elections and is open to support from all political parties or politicial activists, whether in Opposition or in government.
Yesterday, in Parliament, I had narrated an eye-witness account of police brutalities against peaceful and unarmed Malaysians who gathered at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman earlier last Saturday, which resulted in the violence at Kampong Baru later the same day.
It must be stressed that Malaysians have the right to assemble peacefully to express their legitimate concerns and aspirations which must be respected by a democratically-elected government. The police can arrest them for the offence of unlawful assembly and charge them in court if they do not have a police permit, but this does not give the police the right or licence to use excessive force, violence or commit brutalities against the people.
If the people resist arrest, the police are only allowed to use commensurate force to effect the arrest, but this was not the case at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, as the police immediately used water cannon, tear gas and brute force indiscriminately against every one and sundry, including innocent shoppers and bystanders.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and other government leaders have said that the people should wait for the next general elections to express their views. This is a completely mistaken notion of democracy, which should not be reduced to the people listening to Mahathir every day for five years in exchange for Mahathir listening to the people once in five years.
Democracy to be meaningful must mean Mahathir listening to the voice of the people every day in between the five-yearly elections, and not once in five years, and the existence of institutions and democratic space for the people to give voice to their concerns and aspirations.
Mahathir should listen to the voice of the people, which are increasingly critical of his high-handed style of government. He should either call for immediate general elections to seek a new mandate from the people or allow more democratic space to let the people to peacefully assemble and express their concerns and aspirations, as for instance, in allowing the Bukit Jalil stadium to be used for such peaceful public assembly once a week!
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela established a Truth Commission to expose all the violations of human rights that took place under the apartheid regime. May be, it is time Malaysia take a leaf from South Africa and establish a ISA Commission to expose all the abuses of power and violations of human rights under the ISA. I understand that up to now, some 20,000 people had been detained under the ISA since its passage in 1960. I commend this proposal to Gerak of an ISA Commission to investigate into all cases of violations of human rights and government abuses of power in the past four decades for consideration and action.