In his millennium message, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad called on Malaysians to close ranks and set aside differences to face the new millennium with resilience and strength to take the country towards greater success and ensure that Malaysia will continue to be free, independent and successful.
Earlier, he lamented that "Malaysians do not practise democracy like it is done in the West because they continue to fight and engage in enmity even after elections are over".
He said that in the West the society would close ranks after elections and the situation would return to what it was before the polls.
He said: "In the West, party politics is limited to strictly political matters and does not extend to social life".
He said that in this country, the people seemed not interested in making up and closing ranks even after elections had been completed.
"We borrow democracy from the West but we do not practise it like they do," he said.
DAP had fully responded to Mahathirís call to Malaysians to close ranks and set aside differences to face the new millennium with resilience and strength to take the country towards greater success, and this was why in my Hari Raya message, I had proposed a bold and imaginative start to the national reconciliation process with the withdrawal of all charges against former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his release on bail pending outcome of his appeal.
However, instead of working in the direction of national reconciliation to start the process of national healing, Mahathir has decided on doing the opposite - to launch a crackdown by arresting and charging more Opposition leaders and activists by using the most draconian laws in the country, especially the Sedition Act, which had been used to jail and disqualify former DAP MP for Kota Melaka Lim Guan Eng and disenfranchise his civil and political rights for five years!
Mahathir also seems heedless and even reckless that his latest crackdown would again place Malaysia in the dock of international opinion for the high crimes against the rule of law, fundamental liberties and democracy.
Malaysia has already come under condemnation by various prestigious international organisations and NGOs like the International Press Institute (IPI), which accused the Malaysian government of denying freedom of expression in the harassment of five opposition publications.
"IPI believes that the use of the act to intimidate the voice of
Malaysia's pro-opposition publications, which serve as a source of
alternative news, is a clear violation of the right to freedom of
opinion and expression," said Johann Fritz, head of the the Vienna-based
Other international NGOs which have accused Malaysia of violating international laws with the use of "strong-arm tactics to silence its critics" include The New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieries and US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and there is no doubt that is going to be an avalanche of condemnations by the international civil society.
Mahathir should show greater respect for the views of the NGOs and the opinions of the international civil society, especially as he had recently commended the NGOs for their demonstrations at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) in Seattle for saving Malaysia from the worst ravages of globalisation as without the NGO demonstrations "another part of our border will have collapsed."
Malaysians must be surprised by the comment by the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the arrests of opposition leaders and the editor and printer of Harakah were "a normal action" carried out in accordance with the law.
Abdullah did not realise how right he was, for it would be a most "abnormal action" for the Barisan Nasional government to arrest and charge Barisan Nasional leaders, however obvious and heinous the crimes they commit!
The Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Chor Chee Heong said that the arrests had nothing to do with politics and were strictly in accordance with the law. He could tell it to the marines!
Chor probably also wants Malaysians to believe that when I was detained twice under the Internal Security Act and charged under the Official Secrets Act and when Lim Guan Eng was detained under the ISA and charged under the Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Publications Act and later jailed, disqualified as MP and deprived of his civic and political rights, they all have nothing to do with politics.
I can only say that Chor has underestimated the intelligence of Malaysians of all races, religions and even age.
If the spate of arrests have nothing to do with politics, why werenít action taken before the general election last November as all the events pre-date the general election?
The arrests make a complete mockery of the National Commission of Human Rights Act passed by Parliament last year. All the arrests constitute a gross violation of human rights of Malaysians and should be the subject of the first complaints to the Human Rights Commission which was supposed to be set up by the end of last year.
I am sad and surprised that the Bar Council and local press bodies seem to taking a very supine attitude to the gross violations of fundamental rights represented by these arrests and I call on them to come forward to boldly defend the rule of law, press freedom, the right to information, fundamental liberties and democracy from being trampled. They should be in the vanguard in the defense of these fundamental liberties and not take a backseat while their international counterparts are doing all the defense of these rights.