600 Singaporeans gather for ISA crackdown anniversary

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Hundreds of Singaporeans have marked the 25th anniversary of an ISA crackdown in the island republic, notes Anil Netto.

Hundreds gathered at the Singapore Speakers' Corner - Photograph: yawningbread.wordpress.com

Some 600 people turned up at Hong Lim Park (Speakers’ Corner) in Singapore on 2 June to mark the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, an ISA crackdown in the island republic.

(See report at the Yawning Bread blog.)

The crackdown in the island republic in May-June 1987, which roped in 22 individuals, took place five months before Malaysia’s own Operation Lalang from 27 October, when 106 people were detained without trial under the ISA.

The Singapore government alleged that the 22 detained were “Marxist conspirators”, a charge the detainees have always denied. In 1988, another two people were detained.

The turnout of 600 people for the 25th anniversary of the crackdown in Singapore is a sharp increase from previous commemorations. The presence of young people at the gathering was also notable.

From what I gather, only about 21 people had turned up for the 21st anniversary commemoration of Operation Spectrum.

The higher turnout this time around is significant and reminds me of Malaysia’s own experience.

Only 150 people turned up at the gates of the Kamunting Detention Centre on 26 October 1997 to mark the 10th anniversary of Operation Lalang. At that time, public opinion in Malaysia had not yet swung decisively against the ISA.

But just three years later, on 29 October 2000, during the reformasi era, some 2500 people gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the enactment of the ISA in 1960.

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Nine years later – 1 August 2009, the 49th anniversary of the enactment of the ISA: the numbers expanded exponentially once again. This time, over 50000 packed the streets of Kuala Lumpur for a rally organised by the Abolish ISA Movement (GMI). It was the largest protest against the ISA. By now, public sentiment had turned solidly against the ISA.

Bowing to public opinion, two years later, in 2011, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the ISA would be repealed. But his administration promptly introduced another dubious law, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill 2012, which still allows detention without trial.

This does not fool the Malaysian public. Public opposition to detention without trial is not likely to be placated by minor modifications under a new name.

No, this time people are more aware of the basic human right to a free and fair trial and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven in open court.

Awareness has grown in this era of greater enlightenment, the result of the decades-long struggle against detention without trial, aided in no small measure by social media networking. There is simply no turning back the clock.

Anil Netto is treasurer of Aliran

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