Monday, 10-Dec-2001 8:57 AM
RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 5
By Dr Syed Husin Ali
The political history of Malaysia is interspersed with almost regular
repressive periods during which the ISA and/or the emergency regulations
are used to detain people and curb fundamental freedoms. Very often
these periods are preceded by or coincide with growing economic
crisis, inter-ethnic conflict and split within the ruling elite
which can threaten the government losing power.
By its own admission the government has found the ISA as one of
the most effective instruments for undermining growing opposition
as well as public dissent for perpetrating itself. The use of the
ISA to detain individuals is always justified by the need to protect
public order and security. But in actual fact it is often abused
to weaken the opposition as well as public dissent.
During interrogations, the police always try to coerce detainees
through methodical physical and mental tortures into confessing
whatever they have been accused of and also to cooperate with the
government or police. The detainees are considered to have been
"rehabilitated" when they submit to do so. With the rehabilitation,
they are likely to be released early. The stubborn ones will have
to languish in detention for much longer periods.
Indeed, as has always happened, the police, obviously under the
direction of the government, always try to link the alleged activities
of those already detained with opposition parties and other groups,
in order to undermine their position and even lay the grounds for
ultimately banning them. Such "dirty tricks" have been used before,
for example to destroy the once influential SF, and there is a danger
that they will now be used against the existing opposition parties,
following the government desperate attempt to restore its waning
The ISA was originally introduced for the declared purpose of fighting
militant communism. With the global decline of communism and the
end of communist insurgency in Malaysia, it has actually outlived
its purpose. Further, there are numerous laws in this country that
can deal with all kinds of illegal activities, such as possession
and use of firearms, sedition, demonstrations and so forth. But
the government still prefers the ISA because it helps them to get
away with false allegations and not having to prove their case in
the open court.
The ISA is obviously violates fundamental human rights. Above all
it is against the teachings of major religions that do not allow
for unjust punishment by detaining people indefinitely without trial.
But Mahathir, who has now lost majority support from the Malays,
the traditional base of UMNO, has threatened and in fact promised
to continue using the ISA.
There are signs that Mahathir will use the present US-led anti-terrorist
campaigns to justify him to continue using the ISA against all those
whom he considers to be undesirable because they threaten his own
position of power. He can just easily brand them as "militants",
"terrorists" and a threat to
public security. In the past, thousands of people have been detained
without trial because they were accused of being comminist or conniving
with communist. But now, hundreds may be arrested and detained because
they are blamed to be involved in 'reformasi' and 'millitant' "Islamic"
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 1
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 2
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 3
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 4