Need to re-strategise how to rally national and international opinion against the ISA, as the campaign against ISA is one noted casualty of 911 terrorist attacks

- media conference organized by Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) on  the 42nd anniversary of the draconian Internal Security Act to send 10,000 anti-ISA postcards to the Deputy Prime Minister at HAKAM, Kuala Lumpur 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Thursday): Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, in  Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and ASEAN Regional forum, yesterday denied allegations that Malaysia is using the concern over threat of terrorism to justify detention under the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA). 

He said the act was  used as pre-emptive measures to ensure steps were taken before tragedies happened.  Denying that the Barisan Nasional government was using the genuine concern about the threat of terrorism to detain bona fide critics including opposition members, Syed Hamid said “if we  find that there is a threat or an attempt to overthrow the government by way of physical means, we have to take pre-emptive action”. 

This self-serving argument does not bear the slightest scrutiny in any objective review of the 42 darks years of the ISA since its enactment in 1960 – and the 1987 Operation Lalang mass arrests and the detention of the Reformasi Six since last year are  the most powerful indictments of the ISA for its  gross human rights violations. 

How could  Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, then Aliran President, conceivably be a national threat  “prejudicial to the security of Malaysia”  in 1987 – and this applies to all the 106 persons detained under Operation Lalang in  the 1987 dragnet. 

As I said in the  conclusion in  my rebuttal to the grounds of detention and 10 allegations of fact to justify my second ISA detention in 1987: 

“Malaysia can only have a future if the authorities rise above party and intra-party preoccupations and take the longer and larger national perspective of what’s good for the nation and people and for the future, rather than with consolidating power positions or out-manoeuvring political opponents in party or intra-party power play. The seven DAP MPs in detention under the ISA (Karpal Singh, P. Patto, V. David, Lim Guan Eng, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, Lau Dak Kee and myself) are definitely not threats to national security but mere political victims.”

Is Suhakam prepared to examine every case of the 49 persons formally detained under Operation Lalang in 1978 to ascertain as to whether there was any prima facie case that they were  national security threats – which included Irene Xavier, Cecilia Ng, Chee Heng Leng,  Lim Chin Chin, Tan Ka Kheng, Sim Mow Yu, Lim Fong Seng, Kua Kia Soong, Tuang Pik King, Poh Boon Sing, Chow Chee Keong,  Cheong Ah Kow,  Chow Kai Foo, V. Ariokia Dass, Julian Jayaseelan, Brother Anthony Rogers, Dr. Mohd Nasir Hashim, Sulaiman Said, Mohamad Sabu, Mahfuz Omar, Khalid Samad– or whether every case of Operation Lalang detention was a gross violation of human rights? 

If the ISA is used “purely as  pre-emptive measures” and not used vindictively as an instrument of political oppression, can Hamid explain why Lim Guan Eng and myself were the last two of the 49  Operation Lalang detainees to be released from Kamunting detention centre in April 1989? 

There is an urgent need however for human rights advocates to re-strategise how to rally national and international opinion against the ISA, as the campaign against ISA is one noted casualty of  the 911 terrorist attacks. 

In retrospect,  the anti-ISA campaign both inside and outside the country reached  its high-water mark before the September 11 terrorist attacks almost a year ago and has since then been on the precipitate decline. 

For some three years, the Barisan Nasional government was on the defensive, both nationally and internationally, for its continued use of the draconian  and anachronistic detention-without-trial  ISA, the very antithesis to the rule of law and a piece of legislation enacted 42 years ago specifically to fight the  communist insurgency which formally ended in 1989. 

But the September 11 terrorist attacks have come to the rescue of the Barisan Nasional government as transforming the status of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad from a persona non grata at the White House to a valued guest and friend, though not yet an “ally”. 

With the treaty to be concluded between ASEAN nations and the US in the war against terrorism and the proposed establishment of a US-inspired  regional centre against terrorism in Malaysia, Mahathir may soon qualify to be an “ally”.  

The question of Malaysia’s participation in the US war against terrorism should be a matter of grave national concern, especially as Malaysians had been kept in the dark about the so-called Kumpulan Militant Malaysia (KMM) activities and detentions – but this is a  subject for another occasion. 

During his recent brief visit to Malaysia, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell raised the issue of ISA, Anwar Ibrahim and the Reformasi Six  in his meetings with Mahathir, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Syed Hamid, while the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, James Kelly, met Datin Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for breakfast. 

But  these seem to be more “PR” exercises to show consistency with the US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices on Malaysia in March 2002 which was highly critical of the continued use of the ISA and noted that last year “police increased their use of the ISA to arrest and detain many persons, including members of the political opposition, without charge or trial …In the latter half of the year, the Government stepped up its pro-ISA rhetoric”. 

The issue of ISA, Anwar Ibrahim and the Reformasi Six have largely disappeared from the radar of US concerns vis-à-vis Malaysia, replaced by the Bush administration’s top priority concerns about its war against terrorism. 

Such radical shift of attitudes can also be discerned locally, as illustrated by the flip-flop position on the ISA adopted by the Suhakam. 

Before September 11, there were greater national concerns among Malaysians about the injustice  of the ISA detention of the Reformasi Six, but these  had lost out in holding national interest as a result of the 911 terrorist attacks and other developments in the political arena in the country.  Is this sea-change in attitudes likely to result in the Reformasi Six being detained longer after 911 than before 911? 

Human rights activists, and in particular the GMI, must re-strategise and re-think as to how to rally national and international support for the repeal of the ISA in the post-911 scenario – not only to free the Reformasi Six but to ensure that the ISA does not become again a regular instrument of political manipulation and oppression by the Barisan Nasional government.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman