LEST we allow our new prime minister to get away with a slick public relations exercise, here are some cold hard statistics about previous prime ministers and the Internal Security Act (ISA).
In July 1981, two weeks into office as prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad released 21 ISA detainees. As he himself candidly admitted on 5 April 2009, he thought it would be good for him. It probably was for his public image then.
But what did Mahathir subsequently do during his 22 years in power? According to Suaram, under Mahathir’s administration, 1,500 people were arrested under the ISA. Most notable of these arrests were the 100-plus Malaysians who were arrested in 1987 under Operasi Lalang.
But Mahathir wasn’t the only one to start off a premiership on such a good footing. In November 2003, after almost a month of being prime minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi released 15 detainees. Subsequently, however, under his administration between October 2003 and April 2009, there were 105 new arrests.
And so, Datuk Seri Najib Razak isn’t really doing anything extraordinary as Malaysia’s new and sixth prime minister. His release of 13 ISA detainees on 5 April follows a route Malaysians should now be familiar with.
The question, of course, is what will Najib do after this?
Three foreigners — one from India and two from Myanmar — were the first to be released from ISA detention on 5 April
and were taken away in an Immigration Department vehicle (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)
Let’s be real
The ISA violates human rights. No matter what the rhetoric may be about national security and public order, no government should have the absolute power to detain someone without trial for an indefinite amount of time.
And while Najib has promised a review of the ISA, it has been made clear that abolishing it is not in his pack of cards. Worse, the new administration hasn’t even committed to a specific timeframe about when this review will be concluded. Instead, it has assured the public that it will take time.
This begs the question about the government’s sincerity in respecting civil liberties and putting people first. Proposals for amending and/or abolishing the ISA have, on countless occasions, been submitted to the government. Even if the government cannot trust human rights groups to have the nation’s best interests at heart, they can at least trust the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).
Syed Hamid Albar Since 2003, Suhakam has been proposing to the government that the ISA should be abolished. Indeed, then Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar indicated on 8 April 2009 that Suhakam’s report may be used as a basis for the government’s review. Hence, since the government wouldn’t need to start from scratch, it should be able to commit to a timeframe of when it will complete its review of the ISA. This, in fact, would be in line with part of Najib’s slogan, “Performance Now“.
Najib has also said that his move to release the 13 detainees was to demonstrate a caring government that was not repressive. Let’s get real. To begin with, no “caring government” should detain people without trial. But the Malaysian government has, repeatedly, in clear abuse of human rights. And Najib was very much a part of both the Mahathir and Abdullah administrations when ISA detentions were executed. Unlike Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who resigned in opposition to the ISA, Najib has through his years in government done nothing to oppose the detentions.
And yet the new premier is now asking us to view him as a leader with heart because he released 13 people. How about the remaining 27 detainees being held at the Kamunting detention centre? As it is, Najib has refused to comment about further releases. Surely his benevolence, if it were genuine, should extend to others who remain in detention, too?
Mmm, brownies Brownie points
No, Najib shouldn’t be given brownie points for releasing 13 ISA detainees who shouldn’t have been detained in the first place.
But brownie points are exactly what Najib expects, as evidenced by his statements surrounding his first act as prime minister. The subtext to Najib’s message to the rakyat is: “I’m a good guy. I released the 13 detainees.” It’s no different from what an ex-boyfriend of a former classmate of mine once said to her: “You’re lucky you’re in a relationship with me. I don’t beat you.”
Apparently, Malaysians should be thankful we have Najib as our new prime minister because he has released 13 ISA detainees and is looking at reviewing, instead of abolishing, the colonial relic from the days of Malaya’s Emergency.
But really, Najib should only be allowed to score brownie points if he didn’t make this about him. Those detainees, and the ones remaining at Kamunting, deserve to be released, not because Najib is competing with Santa Claus for popularity, but because it was wrong to have detained them in the first place.
Now, if only Najib could say that, and act fully in accordance with that principle, he would deserve the brownie points he seeks from the rakyat.
“Help, I’m slipping” (Pic by takatuka / sxc.hu)
What will Najib do in the months and years to come? There is no guarantee that he will not follow in the same footpaths as Mahathir and Abdullah by arresting and detaining others under the ISA.
For so long as the ISA is in place, Malaysians will have to live in the constant fear that anyone of us can be picked up by the government at a whim. That’s what happened on 12 Sept 2008 to Teresa Kok, Raja Petra Kamarudin and Tan Hoon Cheng. Indeed, our history bears testimony to the countless times the government has used the ISA to silence dissidents and maintain their grip on power in the name of “national security”.
All ISA detainees must be released. And the ISA itself abolished.
Not because Najib is a sweetheart of a prime minister, as he would also want us all to believe by walking about Kuala Lumpur and talking about a “vibrant, free and informed media“. But because it is the right thing to do if Najib’s “goodness” is for real. And until that happens, Malaysians should remain critical and vigilant of our new prime minister.
Jacqueline Ann Surin‘s former classmate broke up with the boyfriend who presented himself as being the best she could hope for because he didn’t abuse her. Jacqueline hopes the nation, like that classmate, will not settle for anything less than what we deserve in a democracy.
JAS, fully agree with your opinion. Najib has to walk the talk with regards to ISA and his other “good to hear” stuff. However, his action to date is exactly doing the opposite. For one, his pandering to Mahathir does not bode well with regards to the ISA issue. Second, having his cousin Kerismuddin run the Home Ministry also does not reflect well on him as Kerismuddin is an avowed ISA proponent.
Jacqueline, well done. Sometimes it’s necessary to call a spade a spade. The ISA is an aberration and the stain of it cannot be wiped out until all detainees are either brought to trial or released unconditionally and the Act repealed. Nothing less will do.
It’s almost as if there’s a Prime Minister’s Handbook sitting somewhere in Putrajaya. Ever since Mahathir, every PM has been doing the same thing.
“Day 1 as PM – release some ISA detainees (double-digit, at least)”
“Day 2 as PM – walk among the people, it gives them hope”
“Day 3 as PM – announce new slogan (1Malaysia)”
“Day 4 as PM – spread rhetoric and repeat steps 1 to 3 if public opinion wavers”
At least Nizar actually went out and DID something.
Well, at least make do with the mini budget or economic stimulus first before indulging in other uncertainties. Make use of it to the core!
Richard Loh says
It is just another one of those public relations exercise. If he is really sincere about the abuses of the ISA, then he should immediately abolish it like what Obama did to the Guantanamo Base in Cuba.
Judging by the two bukit results, the rakyat was single-minded in their summation of Najib’s 13 ISA release. Being perceived as TDM’s protege, his action smacked of a TDM public relations ploy.
The rakyat can see this clearly and expect nothing will come out from Najb’s promise of review. You can lie to all the people some of the time but you cannot lie to ALL the people ALL the time.
Releasing ISA detainees when a new PM is installed is sooo lame…the rakyat just don’t buy it anymore and for Najib to use the same tired act, the rakyat has confirmation that Najib is no different and Umno will not change.
It’s up to the rakyat to change it and make no mistake, the rakyat are relishing the thought of PRU 13 and the act of disposing of Umno and BN….The thought of disposing Umno and BN is just like a fasting [person] thinking about the “waktu berbuka puasa”. There are so many things the rakyat can look forward to…. Bismillah!
Let them do their “wayang”.
Totally agreed with Hamba’s comment. The new PM is more like TDM’s stooge/parrot. For all intents and purpose, we will see harsher actions from this guy. The “review” is nothing more than a ploy. Nothing more nothing less. So brace ourselves for a “terror ride”.
You are right, Jackie!
Typical of politicians who only show face when they want the support of the people. They act as if they are so caring because they need your support. They know that with people support, they can gain POWER. And after gaining POWER, they don’t even take a second look at you. They are only good at pretending and they should be actors in Bollywood.
I had an experience meeting this new PM some years ago in one of the golf clubs, when he was the Minister of Defence. When I addressed him, he not only did not bother to respond, there was not a even smile on his face. Since my first encounter, I promised myself that if ever I bumped into him by chance, I would not bother to address this snob.
Of course, I am a nobody lar. I just want to drive a point here that his walkabout in Petaling Street, Brickfields, Masjid India and Kampung Kerichi is nothing but acting.
Din Haron says
Waktu nak tunjuk ketegasan, “tangkap”. Lepas itu nak tunjuk baik, “bebas”. Begitulah cara mereka perjudi nasib manusia yang bergelar rakyat. Mereka perguna modal insan untuk kekal berkuasa.
Not getting beaten is a good thing, no? I tell my family that all the time. They should be thankful their husband/father doesn’t beat them.
K P VARAN says
Those that supposedly safeguard the nation’s security would be shitting in their pants if the ISA was actually going to be discarded [to allow for] natural justice. [In] the past, the authorities conducted their enquiries with decency and decorum more often than not. Investigation papers were reasonably complete for the prosecution to follow up on a case.
Now we are addled with pitiful investigations, covered- up tracks, half-baked investigation reports, and poor prosecution standards supplemented by a dubious judiciary. Under all these circumstances, the ISA [is really useful in] just locking [up a person] in the “interests of national security”.
Who is attacking us [that the government can] claim [that our] national security is at stake? Is it Singapore, or Thailand, or Indonesia or maybe Laos? Pulling wool over the eyes of today’s educated and intelligent citizens must end. The old game cannot go on.
Possibly if the civil rights movement press too hard, we may end up like Zimbabwe. That is the fear that most citizens bear when power-mad leaders take the throne and everyone from top to bottom has a hand in the business pie.
Let us see the PM “walk the talk” and “not just talk the walk”. Is he trying to throw ikan bilis to catch the whale?
He is the 1st Malaysian PM to appear in office under a big umbrella of doubt with regards to his integrity and truthfulness in relation to the Altantuya murder case, kickbacks, etc etc.
Throwing red herrings to distract the rakyat from one’s guilt and “crime” would not last very long.
Remember, crime does not pay.
Will link tomorrow’s posting to your story above.
Same old, same old. The spin doctors hard at work again. The Umno government thinks they are the only smart [ones], all the rest are stupid.
bernie chin says
Releasing 13 was a PR exercise and political scoring point. We will wait to see how fast and how much will change. The next elections ain’t that far away.
Apa yang betul menghairankan saya ialah Tun Dr M campaigned for his son to contest the Umno Youth chief’s post and lost. Tun Dr M campaigned in Bukit Gantang and Umno lost. Now he has rejoined Umno with the membership number #0000001. This is ridiculous. He is a new member. How come he is given the No. 1 membership? Since he has rejoined Umno, I sincerely believe that this will bring Umno down in the GE13. We wait and see. It’s only less than four years to GE13.
cheang lek choy says
My joke is that there are now 13 vacancies. Repeal the ISA. Release all or charge them in court. This is 2009, not 1984. We have to catch up. We do not want to be in the 3rd world forever. Wawasan 2020 cannot remain as a mimpi.