The Monthly ISA Watch, Trafalgar Square, London

Photos by Danny Lim

The UK chapter of Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA took to the streets of London on Saturday, 26 June to demonstrate peacefully in front of the Malaysian Tourism office in Trafalgar Square.

The demonstration was held to coincide with the United Nations Day for Victims of Torture.

More than two dozen Malaysians of all ages held placards and chanted slogans such as “Stop Detention Without Trial”, “Stop human rights abuses in Malaysia”, “Down with the ISA” and “Yes to Tourism, No to Torture”, as throngs of Londoners and tourists passed by on foot, taking advantage of a rare summer’s day in the capital.

The gathering included a poignant illustration of the abuse often suffered by ISA detainees as one demonstrator, Hiu Woong-sin, stood on a stool, dressed as a detainee in prison uniform, with hands bound and mouth taped shut while sporting a black eye.

The chanting occasionally gave way to feature a makeshift ‘Malaysian speakers’ corner’ (inspired by the recent Speaker’s Corners in Penang and Universiti Malaya), where demonstrators took turns to recite aptly-themed poetry and sing ISA-inspired songs.

Demonstrators handed out hundreds of flyers to passers-by, highlighting human rights abuses perpetrated by Malaysian authorities under the ISA.

To further express concern over previous instances of the threats, torture, ill treatment and abuse suffered by ISA detainees, a petition addressed to the new High Commissioner of Malaysia to the United Kingdom, Zakaria Sulong, was also carried out.

The petition also urged the Malaysian government to repeal the ISA and to sign and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

One demonstrator explained that the group had been inspired by the 40,000 strong anti-ISA march held on 1 August last year in Kuala Lumpur, where peaceful protestors were met with tear gas, water cannons and arrest as they marched into the capital. “The bravery and courage of those at home will never go unnoticed and the least we can do for our Malaysian brothers and sisters is to show solidarity and raise international awareness regarding the plight of ISA detainees and the cruel injustice of the Internal Security Act,” the demonstrator said.

The demonstration was the third of its kind held this year in Trafalgar Square, and the group plans to continue staging monthly protests as part of a campaign to build international pressure to force the Malaysian government to live up to its human rights commitments and responsibilities.

Trafalgar Square remains an important space for freedom of speech and expression in London, having been the site of a number of international justice campaigns in the past including the campaign to free Nelson Mandela from 27 years of incarceration under the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the late 1980s and early 90s the site hosted frequent protests related to Malaysian human rights and environmental issues. In 2003, the Malaysian Tourism Office in Trafalgar Square once again became the focal meeting point for protesters from the Abolish ISA Movement and Free Anwar Campaign, as part of an international campaign calling on the Malaysian government to account for the incarceration of Anwar Ibrahim and the detention of 10 reformasi activists under the ISA.

The 1960 Internal Security Act permits detention without trial or charge and disallows legal representation. This year marks its 50th year of operation.

Under the ISA, a person can be detained for up to 60 days, after which the detention order can be extended by the Minister of Home Affairs for up to two years and renewed every two years following that, effectively allowing indefinite detention without trial. An estimated 10,000 people have to date been detained under the ISA. Techniques of interrogation by Special Branch police combine physical violence with mental persuasion, deception, and coercion involve intense mental and physical pressure, at times amounting to torture.

Human rights groups have documented a common pattern in the treatment of ISA detainees. During the initial 60-day investigation period, ISA detainees  would be assaulted, forced to strip, deprived of sleep, food and water, told that their families would be harmed, and subjected to prolonged aggressive interrogation to coerce confessions or elicit information. ISA detainees have often been held in solitary confinement in this period in a windowless cell where they lose all sense of time. The sense of helplessness is exacerbated by the knowledge that no judicial or legal intervention is permitted and that family visits are entirely at the discretion of their Special Branch interrogators.

The London demonstration follows mounting pressure on Malaysia to put an end to arbitrary detention after a week-long visit by the UN this month highlighted the plight of detainees, including those held under the ISA.  The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) interviewed detainees, many of whom were found to have suffered cruel physical and mental abuse in detention. In its closing statement following the visit (which was the first of its kind), the WGAD called for a repeal of the Internal Security Act, the Emergency Ordinance, the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Restricted Residence Act in accordance with article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged a review of the Internal Security Act upon being elected as the new Malaysian premier in 2009 – a promise which has yet to be met (although the government has again agreed to review potential amendments to the ISA in the current parliamentary sitting). In the light of the UN visit and the Najib government’s emphasis on re-vamping its image abroad, the next few months could prove to be a critical period to hold the Malaysian government to its human rights obligations and for scaling up the campaign against the use of arbitrary detention and detention without trial.

As the gathering drew to an end, one of the demonstrators, Jay Sharma, recited a haunting piece of poetry by Cecil Rajendra, ‘The Animal and Insect’…a chilling reminder of the sort of Malaysia we could be leaving to our children if the ISA is allowed to carry out another 50 years of oppression and tyranny. Or will it be that by then our children will have left us? Will this be the price we pay for “total security”?



‘The Animal and Insect Act’ by Cecil Rajendra

Finally, in order to ensure Absolute national security they passed the Animal and Insect Emergency Control and Discipline Act. Under this new act, buffaloes cows and goats were prohibited from grazing in herds of more than three. Neither could birds flock, nor bees swarm…
This constituted unlawful assembly.

As they had not obtained prior planning permission, mud-wasps and swallows were issued with summary Notices to Quit. Their homes were declared subversive extensions to private property.

Monkeys and mynahs were warned to stop relaying their noisy morning orisons until an official Broadcasting License was issued by the appropriate Ministry. Unmonitored publications and broadcasts posed the gravest threats in times of a National Emergency.

Similarly, woodpeckers had to stop tapping their morse-code messages from coconut tree-top to chempaka tree. All messages were subject to a thorough pre-scrutiny by the relevant authorities.

Java sparrows were arrested in droves for rumour-mongering.

Cats (suspected of conspiracy) had to be indoors by 9 o’clock.

Cicadas and crickets received notification to turn their amplifiers down.

Ducks could not quack nor turkeys gobble during restricted hours. Need I say, all dogs – alsations, dachshunds, terriers, pointers and even little chichuahuas – were muzzled.

In the interests of security, penguins and zebras were ordered to discard their non-regulation uniforms.

The deer had to surrender their dangerous antlers. Tigers and all carnivores with retracted claws were sent directly to prison for concealing lethal weapons.

And by virtue of Article Four, paragraph 2(b) sub-section sixteen, under no circumstances were elephants allowed to break wind between the hours of six and six. Their farts could easily be interpreted as gunshot. Might spark off a riot…

A month after the Act was properly gazetted the birds and insects started migrating south, the animals went north, and an eery silence handcuffed our forests.

There was now Total Security.

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