Malaysian Evasion

The Prime Minister should abolish the ISA.
Wall Street Journal | OPINION ASIA | AUGUST 3, 2009, 4:20 P.M. ET

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak promised in April that his government would conduct a “comprehensive review” of the Internal Security Act, a colonial-era law that allows indefinite detention without trial. On Saturday, 10,000 Malaysians marched in the streets of Kuala Lumpur to hold him to his word, asking him to abolish the act. They were soon dispersed with tear gas and water cannons, and 589 people were arrested.

The confrontation marks a turning point for Mr. Najib’s administration, which until now has refrained from employing roughshod tactics against political opponents. Earlier he won praise for releasing 26 ISA detainees and using that law to detain terrorists, not politicians or journalists as his predecessor did.

But even given that restraint, Malaysians increasingly want a more transparent and freer society. Saturday’s protest was nominally about the ISA, and it was organized by Abolish the ISA Movement, a human-rights group, along with other NGOs. But it was also a larger vote of dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to press ahead with a show trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the unexplained death last month of a young opposition political aide following several hours of interrogation by anti-corruption officials. Politicians from all three opposition parties were present at the protest, including Mr. Anwar.

Malaysia’s constitution guarantees the right to free speech and assembly. But police set up barricades and checkpoints on Friday to prevent crowds from gathering, and launched teargas Saturday before the march began. Under Malaysian law, street gatherings of more than five people are automatically illegal because they require a permit—which in practice is almost never granted. The prime minister’s office and the home office declined to comment to us yesterday, and the police didn’t return our calls.

Mr. Najib would be better served by embracing the protestors’ cause. Abolishing the ISA would not only benefit Malaysians—who would still be protected from terrorists by a host of other detention laws—but would also deny Mr. Anwar’s opposition coalition one of its key rallying points. Arresting opposition leaders, as police did Saturday, only augments their popularity.

Mr. Najib has so far proved to be a savvy leader and boosted his popularity ratings by introducing a series of reforms that begin to tackle Malaysia’s affirmative action polices. If he wants to demonstrate his reform bona fides he could start by listening to those protesters instead of chasing them away.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 12:16 pm

    How many times did we hear ministers and prime ministers said they would amend the ISA and they would review it. In the end nothing was done.

    Najib’s procrastination tactic to evade the ISA issue is nothing new. His call to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the ISA is merely a ploy to fish votes in the by-elections.

  2. #2 by a2a on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 1:21 pm

    Malaysia’s constitution guarantees the right to free speech and assembly.

    If the corrupted government assist Malaysians pratise their right to free speech and assembly those chaos can be avoided.

    Now even worst, the corrupted government using those stupid selfish business operators to attack those couraged Malaysians Anti-ISA standup to uphold for a better country for Malaysians.

  3. #3 by Jaswant on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 8:20 pm

    “Malaysia’s constitution guarantees the right to free speech and assembly”


  4. #4 by Jaswant on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 8:27 pm

    It is nonsensical nonsense to say our constitution guarantees free speech when the article on freedom of speech begins with the words “subject to …”

  5. #5 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Tuesday, 4 August 2009 - 8:45 pm

    Why do Malaysians march?
    By: Yeo Yang Poh (Aug 02, 2009)

    On the move … a section of anti-ISA protesters near
    the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

    WHY march, when the government has said that it will review the Internal Security Act? Why march, when there are other very cosy ways of giving your views and feedback?

    One would understand if these were questions posed by nine-year-olds. But they are not. They are questions posed by the prime minister of this nation we call our home. Answer we must. So, why?

    Because thousands who died while in detention cannot march or speak any more. That is why others have to do it for them.

    Because persons in the corridors of power, persons who have amassed tremendous wealth and live in mansions, and persons who are in the position to right wrongs but wont, continue to rule our nation with suffocating might. And they certainly would not march. They would prevent others from marching.

    Because the have-nots, the sidelined, the oppressed, the discriminated and the persecuted have no effective line to the powerful.

    Because the nice ways have been tried ad nauseam for decades, but have fallen on deaf ears.

    Because none of the major recommendations of Suhakam (including on peaceful assembly), or of the commissions of inquiry, has been implemented. Because the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is not in sight, while corruption and insecurity live in every neighbourhood; and (despite reasoned views expressed ever so nicely in opposition) Rela (peoples volunteer corps) is being brought in to make matters even worse.

    The proponents in Su Qiu (remember them?) were not marchers. In fact it is hard to find nicer ways than su qiu, because the term means present and request or inform and request. In terms of putting forward a view or a request, it is the height of politeness. Yet they were labelled extremists  they who did not march.

    And now you ask, why march?

    Because you gave non-marchers a false name! You called them the silent majority, who by virtue of their silence (so you proudly argued with twisted logic) were supporters of government policies since they were not vocal in raising objections. You claimed to be protecting the interest of the silent majority. Now some of them do not want to be silent anymore, and you are asking why?

    Yes, because double standards and hypocrisy cannot be covered up or explained away forever; and incompetence cannot be indefinitely propped up by depleting resources.

    Because cronyism can only take care of a few people, and the rest will eventually wake up to realise the repeated lies that things were done in certain ways purportedly for their benefit.

    Because the race card, cleverly played for such a long time, is beginning to be seen for what it really is  a despicable tool to divide the rakyat for easier political manipulation.

    Because it does not take much to figure out that there is no good reason why Malaysia, a country with abundant human resources and rich natural resources, does not have a standard of living many times higher than that of Singapore, an island state with no natural resources and that has to import human resources from Malaysia and elsewhere.

    Because, in general, countries that do not persecute marchers are prosperous or are improving from their previous state of affairs, and those that do are declining.

    Because Gandhi marched, Mandela marched, Martin Luther King marched, and Tunku Abdul Rahman marched.

    Because more and more people realise that peaceful assemblies are no threat at all to the security of the nation, although they are a threat to the security of tenure of the ruling elite.

    Because politicians do not mean it when they say with a straight face or a smile that they are the servants and that the people are the masters. No servant would treat his master with tear gas, batons and handcuffs.

    Because if the marchers in history had been stopped in their tracks, places like India, Malaysia and many others would still be colonies today, apartheid would still be thriving in South Africa, Nelson Mandela would still be scribbling on the walls of Cell 5, and Obama would probably be a slave somewhere in Mississippi plotting to make his next midnight dash for the river.

    And because liberty, freedom and dignity are not free vouchers posted out to each household.

    They do not come to those who just sit and wait. They have to be fought for, and gained.

    And if you still want to ask: why march; I can go on and on until the last tree is felled. But I shall
    obviously not.

    I will end with the following lines from one of the songs sung in the 1960s by civil rights marchers in the US, without whom Obama would not be able to even sit with the whites in a bus, let alone reside in the White House:

    It isnt nice to block the doorway
    It isnt nice to go to jail
    There are nicer ways to do it
    But the nice ways have all failed
    It isnt nice; it isnt nice
    Youve told us once, youve told us twice
    But if thats freedoms price
    We dont mind …

    Yeo Yang Poh is a former Bar Council president. Comments: [email protected].

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