Release of 19 ISA detainees reminiscent of the first fortnight of the Mahathir premiership in 1981 but what is urgently needed is not just tokenism but fundamental changes on government policies and attitude on democracy, human rights and good governance
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The release of 19 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees just before the Hari Raya was reminiscent of the first fortnight of the Mahathir premiership in 1981, where on the 14th day of the 2M administration of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Musa Hitam on 30th July 1981, the government released 21 people under the ISA.
Among those released were two DAP Members of Parliament, Chiang Heng Kai (Batu Gajah) and Chan Kok Kit (Sungei Besi), former Deputy Minister now Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad (just sacked by UMNO as New Straits Times Group Editor-in-chief), former chairman of Parti Rakyat Kassim Ahmad and 11 members of Pertubohan Angkatan Sabilullah (Righteous Path organization) – who had been jailed between one to five years.
The 1981 ISA releases were also just before the Hari Raya, and the newspaper headlines were almost the same as 22 years ago. For instance, NST of 25.11.03 headlined “Raya joy for 19 ex-detainees”, which is eerily similar to the NST headline of 31.7.1981: “It’ll be a perfect Hari Raya”.
The two batches of ISA releases under a new Prime Minister in their first month in office have both similarities and differences, as among the former, are the continued detention of many under the ISA in Kamunting Detention Centre – in July 1981, after the release of the 21 there were still 568 under detention.
There is however a most important difference between the two batches of ISA releases – in 1981, when Prime Minister Mahathir and Home Minister Musa decided on the 21 ISA releases, both of them had never been associated with any ISA detention previously. In the case of the recent release of 19 detainees during the first month of a new Prime Minister, they were all detained under the order of the Prime Minister himself in his earlier and continued capacity as Home Minister.
On the first day of Hari Raya on Tuesday, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi gave himself a pass mark for his performance since taking over from Mahathir as Prime Minister at the beginning of the month.
DAP wishes Abdullah well and wants him to succeed as the fifth Prime Minister, but what is urgently needed is not just tokenism but fundamental changes in government policies and attitudes on democracy, human rights and his pledge of a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government where the people can tell him the truth. The time has come for Abdullah to spell out these policies of democracy, human rights and good governance in clear specific terms.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman