Is the Price of Security, Freedom?
This is the problem with the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Malaysia, and also Singapore.
The Act is so all encompassing that it can be abused and misused. The ISA, only if there are transparent, strict checks and balances, is a powerful act that should be limited to very sensitive cases where the sources have to be supposedly protected e.g. terrorism or espionage. The origins of the ISA in Malaysia and Singapore was in the Emergency and it was meant to be used against the Cold War-era China-backed communists and their insurgency. Decades after the communist threat diminished, the ISA is used with more flexibility, departing from its strict historical usage.
The moment the Penal Code is substituted with the ISA as a matter of easier intimidation and deterrence of supposed troublemakers, then there is breakdown in the compact between the people and the government. If the Hindraf 5 were indeed “rebel scum”, then they could be charged with rioting or some other serious act under criminal law. But they were not.
“It is a peaceful gathering just to send a message that all citizens have a right to voice their feelings,” said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement that organized the rally.
“This law is unjust. I think it is time to voice our human rights,” he said, adding that the group would hold more protests.
About 300 people lit candles and gathered behind a police barricade that prevented them from marching to the nearby Independence Square, where they had originally planned to hold the protest.
Police gave them 15 minutes to disperse, during which the protesters chanted “No ISA!” before being pushed back by riot police and a water cannon truck.
The crowd retreated but gathered again about 100 meters (330 feet) from the police barricade. After a while, riot police began chasing protesters away. One person was seen being dragged away by police but it was unclear if he has been arrested.
Police officials declined to comment.
Malaysian opposition and human rights groups have repeatedly called for the ISA, a colonial-era law allowing indefinite detention without trial, to be repealed, saying the law is abused to silence dissidents. The government has said it is necessary to protect national security and ensure stability.
The ISA was most recently used to detain five ethnic Indian leaders who organized a massive rally on Nov. 25 to demand equal right for their minority community in the Muslim-majority country.
Saturday’s protest was not as large as the one on Nov. 25 involving some 20,000 people, but still reflected growing anger among Malaysians against the law.
“We have heard firsthand experiences of ISA detainees. I cringed when I heard how they were tortured,” said Lim Sze Ming, a 29-year-old engineer. “The law has to go.”