The Prime Minister should not think that just because he could get away with the previous ISA crackdown of Operation Lalang in 1987 against the political opposition and civil society dissent, he could again do so in the 21st century in the era of Information Technology.
I call on UMNO, MCA, Gerakan, MIC, SUPP Ministers and MPs to speak up in Cabinet and Parliament against the use of the infamous ISA against the seven and to call for their immediate release or charge them in court if they had committed any offence.
The ISA crackdown would create adverse conditions inimical to an early economic recovery, which will be bad for Malaysia and particularly damaging for Penang state economy - as foreign investors would be further turned off from investing in the country.
For this reason, the Penang State Assemblymen should play the leading role in keeping with the state motto “Penang Leads” to convey to the Prime Minister the people’s dismay and outrage at the unwarranted resort to the ISA against the political opposition.
The Penang State Assembly when it meets next week should pass an unanimous motion asking the Prime Minister to put national interests above party interests and to release the seven under the ISA immediately and if there are evidence, to charge them in open court for a public trial to be held.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim is clearly wrong when he said that the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) should not have called for the immediate release of the seven ISA detainees and that in “behaving a little bit extraneous and its exuberance” had given a boost to reformasi activities.
Suhakam’s statutory duty and responsibility is not to give a boost or damper to reformasi activities but to protect and promote human rights and to speak up whenever human rights come under threat, whether by the gross misuse of powers such as the ISA crackdown or police trampling on human rights.
Rais is giving a very narrow and restrictive interpretation of the responsibility and powers of Suhakam, claiming that Suhakam can only act after the completion of the 60-day detention under Section 73(1) of the ISA, to go into the question of visits - whether it had been denied, the condition of detention areas and the kind of lives that the detainees were undergoing.
This is a most unacceptable interpretation of the Suhakam’s duties and responsibilities. Suhakam has the right and duty to speak up if there is a clear abuse of the detention-without-trial ISA, where the police has no clear ground to act under Section 73(1) in the first place to launch ISA arrests.