We gather tonight for “Tribute to ISA detainees”. The Internal Security Act (ISA) which had detained without trial over 10,000 people in its 51-year iniquitous history, including political leaders and literary giants like Ahmad Boestamam, Abu Bakar Al Bakir, Burhanudin Al-Helmy, Ishak Muhammad (Pak Sako), Aziz Ishak, Syed Husin Ali, Kassim Ahmad, Samad Ismail, Anwar Ibrahim, Karpal Singh, P. Patto, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, Khalid Samad, Kamaruzaman Ismail, Nashir Hashim, Hishammudin Rais, Saari Sungib, Goh Kean Seng, and Lee Hai Chew.
I was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) twice, first time for 17 months in 1969 after my first election as Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka and the May 13, 1969 riots in Kuala Lumpur and second time, under Operation Lalang for 18 months.
Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng and I were among the first to be detained when the Operation Lalang dragnet was launched on Oct. 27, 1987, resulting in the arrest of 106 detainees from a whole spectrum of national life. Although the 49 persons formally detained under the ISA after the custodial detention and interrogation of 60 days were released in batches, Guan Eng and I were the last two to be released after 18 months of detention in April 1989.
I still remember that when I was transferred to Kamunting Detention Centre after being held for 60 days at the ISA Remand Centre in Batu, Kuala Lumpur, I was welcomed by half a dozen ISA detainees in another compound and who had obviously been incarcerated for quite some time.
I asked them how long they had been detained in Kamunting Detention Centre and I was shocked when I was told that they had been detained from 14 to 16 years. They had been languishing in the Kamunting Detention as they seemed to have been forgotten by the authorities.
Through DAP Members of Parliament who were free outside Kamunting to carry out their parliamentary duties, the plight and their long-term detention under the ISA were highlighted, and shortly after, the half-dozen ISA detainees were released.
We can therefore say that thanks to 1987 Operation Lalang, the half a dozen ISA detainees incarcerated for 14 – 16 years got released or they might become the world’s longest-held detainees because they were forgotten by the authorities.
I am delighted to meet with Goh Kean Seng, who was detained in Kamunting for eight years, as I had raised the issue for which he was detained in Parliament in the seventies, although I had never met him until today.
Goh was active in the University of Malaya Chinese Language Society in the early 70s, and which had staged a play “Chun Looi” – “Spring Thunder” – depicting the unity of all races to fight the British colonialists. Goh and others were detained under the ISA for spreading the communist ideology in staging the play, and I can still remember castigating the authorities for detaining the University of Malaya Chinese Language Society student leaders, in particular for their allegation that the Chinese Language Society play had used real rifles to depict the fight against the British authorities, when they were in fact wooden stage props.
Those were the times when even lies and falsehoods were used as justification to detain people under the ISA, where constitutional guarantees of liberty of the person, freedom of speech, expression, opinion and information were trampled upon by the authorities with impunity.
Although the iniquitous ISA has been repealed, the country appears to be heading to a new period of repression with new draconian legislative measures likely to be presented in the current meeting of Parliament, with new draconian provisions and increased penalties for offences under the Official Secrets Act, Sedition Act as well as giving the Prime Minister dictatorial powers to virtually declare emergency in the country without checks-and-balances from the Yang di Pertuan Agong and Parliament.
All MPs and Malaysians must be vigilant to safeguard their fundamental liberties entrenched in the Constitution and not allow these human rights to be diluted or taken away in any manner under any circumstances.
(Speech at the “Tribute to ISA Detainees” ceramah held at Kota Bahru Chinese Chamber of Commerce hall on Friday, 11th March 2016 at 10 pm)