Upshot of Suhakam report - Mahathir should withdraw blanket ban on ceramahs and Parliament uphold the right to peaceful assembly

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): The arrest of Johore PAS Youth exco member, Norashid Sakip, who is also PAS Youth chief for Sungai Benut branch, in Simpang Rengam under the Internal Security Act (ISA) is most deplorable  and signals that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is prepared to embrace the worst excesses of draconian laws more than two decades ago.

In March 1980, I spoke up in Parliament  to condemn the arrest of PAS officials under the ISA following demonstrations by padi farmers in Kedah  as gross abuse of power by the political party in power, calling for the PAS officials to be charged in court if they had committed any offences under the ordinary laws of the land as the ISA was enacted to deal with extraordinary situations with grave security implications for the country and not meant to deal with ordinary dissent or demonstrations.

Two decades later, the use of the ISA against PAS officials because of the unreasonable and undemocratic police blanket ban on all political ceramahs is equally reprehensible.

Mahathir is returning  to the bad old days as  in 1980 when the ISA was used indiscriminately and wantonly against all forms of dissent, whether trade union officials and workers in asserting their right to organise and collective bargaining, or even against a lawyer-politician for entering a caveat against the transfer of government land to a private company.

When Mahathir became Prime Minister in July 1981 20 years ago, he released long-serving ISA detainees and promised a more open and tolerant government.  It is sad and tragic  that immediately after celebrating his 20-year premiership last month, Mahathir has embraced the worst excesses of the ISA before him after announcing to the country and the world in April that he was prepared to “break international norms” on democracy and human rights to protect the security of the nation when he was merely protecting his own power position.

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) deserves full commendation for coming out with a strong report today upholding the citizens’ right to unrestricted and legal peaceful assemblies, recommending a total change in the attitude of authorities and far-reaching amendments to the Police Act as a long-term solution.
As an upshot of the  Suhakam report - Mahathir should withdraw the  blanket police  ban on ceramahs and Parliament should  uphold the right to peaceful assembly by endorsing the Suhakam report.

Mahathir should also  implement the  immediate short and medium-term proposals of Suhakam that the police adopt  a more lenient approach  in granting permits for assemblies as well as the introduction of speakers’ corners.

 Let Mahathir lead all Barisan Nasional leaders in changing their  “present mind-set …  that assemblies are  intrinsically dangerous and are liable to become a threat to national security and public order” and be fully conscious of the fact that the government must not act in any way which  infringes the fundamental rights of its  citizens which can no longer remain unchallenged.

In keeping with the Suhakam report, the police should stop the use of the ISA in connection  with disputes over freedom of assembly, release Norashid Sakip from ISA arrest as well as withdraw all charges preferred  against PAS leaders, including PAS MP for Kuala Kedah, Mohamad Sabu, for unlawful assemby.

As Parliament is still in session as a result of another week-long extension, MPs should debate the Suhakam report to ensure Parliament focus on the importance that the  authorities understand the values of civil society, democracy and the rule of law as well as give full endorsement to the Suhakam position that peaceful assemblies are a healthy way for members of civil society to express dissatisfaction over matters  that affect their lives.

*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman