In the light of the recent Abolish ISA rally, during which close to 600 people were arrested, Hishamuddin Yahaya takes comfort in the assurance that people power will ultimately win the day. Don’t underestimate their commitment and tenacity, he says.
Some called the anti-ISA demonstation on 1 August an “illegal assembly”, others called it “the opposition’s political agitation”. Whatever label they conveniently like to attach to the gathering, it was unquestionably the people’s movement. The multitude numbering tens of thousand converging in the city of Kuala Lumpur came from all over the country, people of all races and religion, men and women adults and children with one common intention, to fight injustice. It was the unravelling of people’s pulses precipitated by impulses too strong for restraint when a draconian law still rules in modern Malaysia. The ISA, or more correctly called the inhuman law, which is against the rules of natural justice, inconsistent with the UN’s Charter and against all religious laws, deserves to be opposed vigorously and condemned unreservedly.
On Monday, 3 August, the sycophantic and servile media accused the demonstrators of causing losses of 20 million ringgit to businesses in Kuala Lumpur. How they arrived at that figure is best known to themselves. But even if it’s true, that would be the same amount of money spent by the demonstrators had they not been brutally dispersed. The restaurants in Kuala Lumpur would have been full that day from morning to dusk, the fast food chains would have businesses more than they could handle; the shopping complexes would have an unprecedented windfall. It would have been a business bounty for the business people that would not have been forgotten. In fact they would have prayed for such an event to occur again and again in the interest of their business. But alas, the authorities spoilt the day and deprived them of a colossal windfall.
A certain doddering old man whose advice is seldom asked, but who nevertheless gives his advice freely and willingly, even though unsolicited, remarked, “ Demonstrations are not our culture”. His ‘wisdom’ may be the product of his senility. But let us ask him, “Is injustice our culture?”
Injustices are the culture of the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt and the culture of medieval rulers. It should not be the practice in the age of the “crooked bridge”. The ISA has outlived its usefulness. It was meant to deal with communist subversives. Even the drafter of the law who visited Malaysia many years ago confirmed this. He was very surprised that this law is still in Malaysia’s stature book. What a shame!
But this same doddering old man seems to forget that fighting injustice is everyone’s obligation. And whether he knows it or not, there are three ways of fighting injustice. First, with our hands (i.e. real action including demonstration). Secondly, with words of mouth (i.e. speeches and writings). Thirdly, with hatred in our heart (which is the weakest form of protest).
Staging a peaceful demonstration is a citizen’s inviolable right, enshrined in the constitution. It is therefore the duty of the Home Minister to allow a demonstration or assembly to take place if he is satisfied that the assembly or demonstration is unlikely to breach the peace. In the absence of that, it is his duty to direct the police to observe and ensure that no untoward incident will occur during the demonstration. The requirement of a police permit, for all intents and purposes, is only an administrative procedure so that the district police will know before hand what is to take place and act accordingly.
In the case of the 1 August demonstration, the intention was known to all and sundry, let alone the police. It was not race-based, nor religious-based, nor political-based and therefore void of any sensitivity. The only sensitivity felt was by the Barisan Nasional, which would like to retain the ISA at any cost. When I casually asked a Cabinet Minister once why we should not abolish the ISA, his curt reply was “Mati kita …”.
Since no sensibilities were involved, it was morally and politically wrong to brutally disperse the demonstration, just because it did not have a police permit. In any case, if a permit is applied for it would not be issued by the police. The police on the direction of the Home Minister reacts vehemently against any demonstration. The police would intimidate the public through the press days before the event that nobody should participate in the demonstration and that participants would be prosecuted for unlawful assembly.
The police instilled fear right up to 31 July, the eve of the assembly. All roads leading to the city were blocked. People were questioned about their intention for going into the city. But the citizens were smart. They parked their cars somewhere else and took the LRT into the city centre. Buses that came from Kelantan and parked in Kg Baru on Friday night were stopped from going to the meeting points the next day and participants had to walk all the way, their spirits undampened. Not satisfied with the road blocks, police choppers were hovering over the city all day, creating an atmosphere that trouble was brewing. That made the shopkeepers close their shops that day. Not out of fear of mobs, but because they feared that gas canisters might hit their eyes.
On Monday, 3 August, we read about the arrest of more than 500 people, including minors. That probably was the maximum capacity the police could manage; otherwise the figure would have risen to 1,000 or more. Foreign journalists and tourists were not spared the chemical spray that was deployed indiscriminately. Congratulations to the police! That certainly helped to secure maximum international publicity over the news throughout the world and at the same time exposed the government’s high handedness against a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration on that day. That would have put Najib’s 100 days in bright light!
Do the authorities think that what happened on 1 August – the arrest of so many, the threat to prosecute the parents of minors who participated and all other forms of barbaric methods employed – would put an end to such demonstrations? Experience in neighbouring countries should convince us otherwise. The more harsh and brutal the authorities become in dealing with the public, the more astute the people would become. Political activists are in a class of their own. They know the price for creating changes in this country would be very high but lock-ups and prisons will not deter them from pushing for change. They are fearless in their cause and determined in their efforts.
Will the public accept the ex-Foreign Minister’s argument that the ISA is meant to protect the interest of 26 milion people of Malaysia and not the interests of those people who are still in detention? Doesn’t he understand the simple logic that the tens of thousand demonstrators were actually the representatives of the 26 million people? Whom does he represent? He represents Umno, the elites and their collective interest that has nothing to do with the common people.
It would be absolutely puerile for the BN government to underestimate the demonstrators’ commitment and tenacity. The event of 1 August will repeat itself and the next time the crowd might even be bigger. And if that happens just before the 13th general election, the BN government will lose its last frontier. The BN will lose the election and Najib Razak will be the last of the Umno PMs. Pray it will happen. Ameen.