Rais’ full transformation  from being  the most “liberal” to the most “illiberal” Barisan Nasional leader before and after his return to the Cabinet

Media Statement 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Monday):  The statement by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim that the detention-without-trial Internal Security Act (ISA)  could be used to detain anyone caught for arson in Thursday's fire at Dewan Sultan Iskandar of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) in Skudai is most shocking,  unbelievable and ominous, and marks his  full transformation from being the most “liberal” to the most “illiberal” Barisan Nasional leader before and after his return to the Cabinet. 

No right-thinking Malaysian would condone arson whether against public or private property but no one who cherish the rule of law would make the outrageous proposition or entertain the notion that  anyone caught for arson for the UTM fire should be detained under the ISA instead of a public trial to bring the  full weight of the law to bear on the perpetrator. 

Rais’ suggestion is most dangerous and subversive of the rule of law, especially at this period of post-911 “madness” when there are those in power who believe they could get away with the worst excesses against the rule of law in the mass hysteria against terrorism. 

Rais’ proposal must be deplored by all justice-loving Malaysians, as he is publicly advocating the setting aside of the rule of  law which provides for public trial for offences subject to the fundamental principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the use of the ISA as an omnibus weapon to punish and detain  suspected offenders without having to go through the rigorous process of a public trial! 

Rais, who was Deputy Home Minister from 1976-78, had in his controversial   1995 book Freedom under Executive Power in Malaysia, called on the courts to be “an effective barricade” against executive transgressions against the rights and liberties of the subject, warning that so long as the courts “divested themselves of the jurisdiction” to question the abuses of executive powers, for so long will the rule of law be marginalised in Malaysia. 

Although Rais had last June publicly claimed that he wrote the book “merely as an academic study” which should not be held against him for the rest of his life, he has taken a quantum leap-back  in his position on democracy, human rights and the rule of law in virtually  calling for the opening of the flood-gates for abuses of executive powers and marginalisation of the rule of law when he suggests  the dispensation of a public trial for those caught for the suspected arson of the UTM Hall and their indefinite detention  without trial under the ISA. 

Was the UTM fire an act of arson and sabotage or will it be a repeat of the  University of Malaya Dewan Tunku Chancellor fire of June 29 last year, which from the outset was beset by conflicting charges of being an act of arson and sabotage on the one hand and the report  that it was caused by a short-circuit - with no public release of the findings of official investigations into the University of Malay fire although  it had been completed a long time ago! 

Whether the handling of the UTM fire would be a replica of  the UM fire, Rais’ dangerous proposition that the detention-without-trial ISA should be used against suspected offenders in place of the ordinary laws of the land must be condemned and shot down, so that it would not be the thin end of the wedge for the  beginning of a new “dark age” in Malaysia with the most flagrant  abuses of executive powers and worst marginalisation of the rule of law than at any period  in the past. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman