01 August 2009

ISA Rally in Kuala Lumpur!

Social unrest and political demonstrations used to be rarely heard of in Malaysia. But today, half the city centre was blocked off by police as some estimated 20 000 demonstrators gathered for a rally through Malaysia's capital to protest against the Internal Security Act – a controversial law that in its essence, gives the government the right to detain you without trial incommunicado (that means that neither lawyers nor family can visit you) for 60 days if you pose a threat to Malaysia's security, essential services or economic life.

It's a good thing I was partying late last night and subsequently was pretty lazy and tired today to go out into the city centre for if I had decided to go into the city centre, especially the Central Market or KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, also synonymously used for the towers themselves with the shopping centre or the area around them), I might have ended up caught between crowds of people wearing Anti-ISA shirts and placards and the police spraying, no showering, teargas and chemically laced water, unaware that a protest was planned for the day. Then again, once I had found out, I would have probably stayed on to demonstrate against the violation of human rights by this act.

The day before the event, the police set up road blocks in an attempt to deter protesters from entering the city centre. When I went to KL Sentral, my bus was stuck in a huge jam on the federal highway, one of the main arteries for locals from the residential areas and commuters alike. When I got into the station, I was wondering why there were so many people there; it looked like the first day of the summer holidays, with long queues of 20 people in front of everything you could possibly queue up for, LRT ticket machines and the ticket office (because of course, half the machines were out of service), Komuter train ticket office, ATMs... I ask someone what's going on today and then go to find a newspaper. The taxi ticket counter was closed entirely and instead, a teksi marshall on the outside with songkok and walkie talkie was managing a queue of 30 people, waiting like me, around 20 minutes for one of the few taxis out there today to drop by KL Sentral in this jam. He did a good job, shouting out for people's destinations and pooling them into sparse taxis.

Wikipedia thankfully summarises the key facts about the law really well:
“Preventive detention first became a feature of the then Malaya in 1948 primarily to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 was made, following the proclamation of an emergency, by the British High Commissioner [...]. It allowed the detention of persons for any period not exceeding one year. The 1948 ordinance was primarily made to counter acts of violence and, conceivably, preventive detention was meant to be temporary in application. The emergency ended in 1960 and with it ended the powers contained in the that ordinance as it was repealed. The power of preventive detention was however not relinquished and in fact became an embedded feature of Malaysian law. In 1960 itself, the government passed the Internal Security Act under Article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution. It permitted the detention, at the discretion of the Home Minister, without charge or trial of any person in respect of whom the Home Minister was satisfied that such detention was necessary to prevent him or her from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security or to the maintenance of essential services or to the economic life in Malaysia. “

In recent years, the list of detainees who have been arrested under the ISA includes opposition leaders (such as prominent figure Anwar Ibrahim, currently still in a court battle for accused sodomy), HINDRAF activists (Hindu Rights Action Force; a big alliance of Indian NGOs with the objective of gaining more representation for what they perceive as marginalisation of Indians in Malaysia), a few human rights activists and a lot of alleged terror suspects of JI (the organisation that has been linked with the Bali bombings).

The anti-ISA movement on the political front as I understand, is strongly supported by DAP or the Democratic Action Party, led by Anwar Ibrahim, a secular, multi-racial, social democratic/democratic socialist party and PAS, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, an Islamist, traditionally conservative party which in brief envisions Malaysia to become an Islamic state and believes the ISA to be contrary to moral ethics. Contrary to what you may expect, the PAS used to be too radical even for many Malay Muslims and since the 2004 elections tried to reach out to the non-Muslim Malay population by moderating their views. The main leading party, UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) which has led the country ever since independence in 1957, has however been experiencing a drop in popularity in the last few elections, with a historical low number of states won, mostly due to a lot of scandals and what is perceived as racialist and segregating politics by many locals. Two former Prime Ministers used to criticise the ISA while in opposition and then, after the election suddenly called it a “necessary” law. Right now, the government is about to review the ISA, amendments are said to be made in September. About the PM's statement on the rally, The Star quoted, “Why have a demonstration when we are in the process for discussions and getting feedback from the people?” “What is important is to give opinions, suggestions and productive ideas on how best to improve such laws instead of protesting” and “When the protest continues, then it is up to the police to take the necessary action” 438 people were arrested, of these 37 women and 38 juvenile. I heard that at one point, people were taking cover from the teargas in the National Mosque and the police sprayed right into it. But in general, as far as I know, the police did not use excessive physical violence but just randomly arrested people who were prepared for this already. The fact that people went out to demonstrate for this shows how strongly they feel about this issue. A local person's opinion was that usually, Malaysians keep quiet because they can get arrested for defamation or sedition but then come election day...!

Watch the three really good videos on my blog if you want to see the whole thing in motion!

1 courageous comments!:

Kat said...

60 days with no contacting anyone? that is terrible!