Protest groups and individuals are stepping up pressure on the Malaysian government to repeal harsh internal security laws, echoing the widespread outcry that marked the recent arrests under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Last Saturday marked one of the largest protests that have taken place in recent months, as more than 2,000 Malaysians from all walks of life staged a peaceful march through the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), as well as rights groups Suaram and the Abolish ISA Movement, they called for the removal of the ISA, which allows for detention without trial. They also wanted the release of 65 detainees.
Hindraf coordinator R.S. Thanenthiran said the ISA – first drafted half a century ago to fight communism – was outdated.
‘If somebody has committed a crime, then they must be tried in an open court,’ he told The Straits Times.
Next up, the group intends to keep up the pressure by gathering 10,000 supporters at Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s traditional open house in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday – the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
They are also planning to attend his open house in his Penang constituency of Kepala Batas on the second day of Hari Raya.
Earlier this month, the authorities detained three people under the ISA: a reporter and a lawmaker who were later released, as well as prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who was sentenced to a two-year detention order in the notorious Kamunting detention centre.
The last time the ISA was used was when five Hindraf leaders were detained in December last year, after the group staged a massive anti-government protest a month earlier.
The five were sent to Kamunting for two years, and Hindraf plans to hold a large gathering to commemorate the first anniversary of their arrest.
The authorities maintain that the ISA is needed to fight terrorism and threats to national security, but critics have long condemned it as outdated and a tool manipulated by the government to silence critics and the opposition.
The call to get rid of the Act has been championed for years by groups such as Suaram and the Abolish ISA Movement.
Apart from protests in the past years, they have held weekly candlelight vigils in Kuala Lumpur and Penang this month. They plan to organise more anti-ISA protests in the coming months, but have yet to finalise details.
Even individual activists are chipping in. Human rights lawyer and blogger Haris Ibrahim, for instance, recently launched a petition to free ISA detainees on his site, aiming to get one million signatures.
The petition currently has around 34,000 signatories.
‘The use of such legislation violates the basic rights of detainees to due process and fair rule of law,’ he said, adding that it strengthens the view that the government is losing control and embarking on desperate authoritarian measures.
Indeed, critics called the recent ISA arrests a ‘crackdown’, as it came just days before the opposition’s Sept 16 deadline to topple the government, which never materialised.
All this backlash is increasing the pressure on the beleaguered Prime Minister to step down – and it appears that it will not let up.
‘We will keep holding gatherings until all ISA detainees are released. The PM should listen to the people of Malaysia,’ said Mr Thanenthiran.
Pressure mounts on Malaysian Barisan Nasional government to repeal ISA