12 December, 2007

Internal Security Act Flung at Peaceful Protestors

An old fear, not felt since the dictatorial Mahathir Mohamad retired as prime minister in 2003, has returned -- fear of arrest without trial and indefinite incarceration without being charged.

It is considered the most dreaded punishment possible for a political opponent, an activists or a human rights lawyer.


After a brief hiatus of four years it is apparent that Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Badawi, would do no more than preach a new deal for Malaysians in which corruption was to be eradicated, crime curbed, transparency, accountability, an independent judiciary and a free media restored.

Now all the sweet talk of a new beginning lies exposes after two major public protests -- on Nov. 10 and 25 -- rattled the government and saw nearly 50 protestors arrested, jailed and facing trial for merely voicing their grievances peacefully and in public.

"Mr. Abdullah has shed all pretence of democracy. He has rolled up what little he had allowed by way of liberties," said Steven Gan, editor of Malaysiakini.com, an independent online news magazine. "He has finally shown his mailed fist."

Badawi’s dropping of the mask is inevitably followed by continuous threats amplified in the government-controlled mainstream media to use the dreaded internal security act (ISA) to arrest political opponents and ‘save the nation’.

"I am willing to sacrifice public freedom for the sake of national stability," Badawi said in a speech on Monday, justifying the arrest of nearly 50 protestors, many of them lawyers, opposition party leaders and pro-democracy activists. His words echoed those once uttered by Mohamad to arrest 102 political opponents and activists in 1987.

Badawi’s four-year-old administration is weighed down by the unresolved, rampant corruption in the police force, debilitating corruption scandals in the judiciary, unresolved inter-ethnic tension, curbs on freedom of religion and a spike in the cost of living.

"The one word that can best describe all these is failure," said opposition leader Lim Kit Siang. "He has failed to solve numerous problems that are piling up and weighing down the social system."

Under the current climate of fear that has gripped the nation even opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, who is blamed by the authorities as the "hidden hand" behind the series of public protests that has rocked the capital since October, is not spared.

He was briefly detained and questioned for 45 minutes on Tuesday morning after landing at the Kualal Lumpur airport from Turkey.

Ibrahim’s aides now fear he will be picked up anytime soon to quell rising dissent fuelled by a slowing economy, spiralling cost of living and a government seemingly out of touch with the harsh realities of daily life.

On Nov. 25 over 20,000 ethnic Indians demonstrated in the city demanding an end to official marginalisation and a fair share of the national wealth. Earlier, on Nov. 10, another massive rally led by Anwar demanded a fraud-free election.

Since last week the authorities have been arresting human rights lawyers, opposition party members and civil rights activists taking part in public protest. Any form of public protest is not permitted even a one km walk by lawyers on World Human Rights Day.

Police permits are required under Malaysian law for public assemblies, defined as a gathering of five or more persons. Any gathering without a permit is deemed an illegal assembly.

To date over 50 people have been arrested and charged in court for various flimsy offences including taking part in deemed illegal assemblies, an offence that carries a jail term of six months.

Arguments by prosecutors that such protests would destabilise the nation saw lusty guffaws from the public gallery. "The Prime Minister is under pressure from his United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) colleagues to act fast to quell the growing dissent," said Param Cumaraswamy, a respected lawyer and United Nations special rapporteur on the judiciary, in an interview with IPS.

''They are all rattled and they think ISA is the solution," Cumrasamy said. "If that happens and if Anwar is arrested it will be a major blow to Malaysia’s budding democracy movement."

The ISA is a tough colonial era legislation originally intended to be used against a communist rebellion in the 1960s but, since then, political opponents have been fair game.

It was last used in 2001 against individuals alleged to be members of the Jemaah Islamia, labelled by many governments as a terrorist group. In 2002 it was used against eight leaders of Ibrahim’s National Justice Party. One of the victims subsequently won RM2 million (601,685 US dollars)in damages for torture and wrongful detention.

Some vocal critics of the government are already preparing their families and loved ones for the day the plainclothes police appear, usually before dawn, and hiss: "You are under arrest." Typically the police produce a detention order signed by the internal security minister, in this case Badawi himself, that will list charges that the government is not obligated to prove.

"You are taken away... it is like being dropped into a black hole," said Gobalakrishnan Nagappan, a former ISA detainee who was arrested last week and charged with participating in illegal assemblies. "It is like they own you, once you are arrested," he said recalling his days as an ISA detainee in 2002. ''It is hell on earth," he told IPS.

When Abdullah took office in 2003 he publicly repudiated the ISA and promised not to use it. Four years on he is threatening to use it to quell rising discontent whose root causes have been identified as poverty, alienation and marginalisation.

To many observers Abdullah, who had raised expectations by vowing to wipe out corruption and promote democracy, has run out of steam.

"The problem is that his rhetoric was great but he could not deliver...the corruption riddled patronage system he presides over will not allow him to deliver," said Nasir Hashim, president of the small Parti Sosialis Malaysia. "After four years he has become a willing slave of the system."

"In Malaysia, corruption continues to run rampant among the leadership,’’ said Ibrahim in a statement. ‘’The integrity of the judiciary has been shattered. Crime has risen dramatically and the economy is lagging.’’

"Citizens have taken to the streets in peaceful protest to call for reform of the electoral process. Most recently, lawyers have been thrown in jail. The government has resurrected the spectre of the ISA to intimidate and instill fear among civil rights leaders," he added in the statement.

- By Baradan Kuppusamy, IPS


Diabolic saffron gameplan: Ruin ‘Muslim’ Malaysia ‘using’ LTTE!

BY ahmedabadsami

“If they are talking about Indian citizens, we would understand the concern, but what happened involves Malaysian citizens. If they break any law, it is our right to deal with them in accordance with Malaysian laws," reacted Syed Hamid Albar, Malaysia’s foreign minister to the daily The Star, responding to New Delhi"s reported ‘concerns’ over alleged bad treatment of Indians in Malaysia. “There is concern whenever Indians or people of Indian origin are affected. . ,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India had said, apparently in response to which Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi obliquely referred to India’s records on riots, “In Malaysia, there has been no conflict between the Muslims and Indians or Islam and Hinduism. . . We abide by it and hold firmly to the Rukun Negara.” The unmistakable snubs were in response to the big noise raised in Indian Parliament on police action on a Kuala Lumpur mob collected by HINDRAF (Hindu Rights Action Force) on Sunday (Nov 25). India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee had told MPs on Friday, “We are aware of remarks made by a Malaysian minister against the respected Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi . . . and are in touch with the authority there.”

It was a quirk of fate that the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party) supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi finds himself at the eye of this storm, which threatens to undo strain the traditionally cordial relations between the countries. As a matter of fact, even as the umpteen splinter factions of DMK have faced charges of corruption, lawlessness etc, none of them can be accused of ever playing the communal card. Yet, it was Karunanidhi who had urged New Delhi to “take immediate and appropriate action to end the sufferings” of ethnic Indians, without ascertaining facts fully.

It now appears that he was hoodwinked into the situation through a meticulously organised blackball-PR exercise, employing the Hindu front to destabilize ‘Muslim’ Malaysia. The outfit sent one of its lawyers Waytha Moorthy to garner support against “ethnic cleansing” in Malaysia, from India and other world capitals. In fact, the only other big leader, apart from Karunanidhi, to meet him was BJP Chieftain LK Advani, reputed for his role in demolishing Babri Masjid; no minister or official in New Delhi was prepared to meet him.

When in Tamil Nadu, Waytha Moorthy established contacts with Vaiko, currently in alliance with ADMK Chief Jayalalithaa. Hers is the only TN regional party to have any truck with the BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party). BJP advocates a barbaric brand of Hindutva and wants to establish an Akhand Bharat Hindu Rashtra (Greater Hindustan), lording over the region as a nuke-armed superpower. His topmost priority however was the factional leader Krishnasamy, belonging to the Congress.

When Karunanidhi was reminded by the de-facto justice minister of Malaysia that his place was TN and not another country, he mellowed down: “I didn’t criticise the government of Malaysia.” He tried to wriggle out, saying, “I was only doing my duty as chief minister and a Tamil and spoke up for ethnic Tamils. It is my duty to defend Tamils. . . I am prepared to accept (punishment for) that.” His daughter Kanimozhi, who is an MP, clarified, “He has just written to the Prime Minister, expressing his concern over what had happened there. That"s all. . . it is up to the Indian Government to decide what it can do to control the situation in Malaysia.” Such afterthoughts could not heal the severe hurt felt by the Malaysian government at the Indian response to an outfit that levelled charges of “ethnic cleansing”. Calling the charge a “blatant lie”, Abdullah asked people like Karunanidhi, “. . . Causing racial conflict in the country, especially between the Indians and Malays. Is this what we want?”

The 83-year-old, gifted scholar, Kalaignar (‘expert artist’) Karunanidhi, possesses mind-boggling wizardry with the Tamil language. He played a significant role in spreading the ‘self-esteem’ movement under the leadership of CN Annadorai in Tamil Nadu. The State pioneered the concept of “egalitarian society through affirmative action”, which became the buzzword in the rest of India, and also Malaysia, much later. It was through Kalaignar’s incisive dialogues for Tamil movies that the message was propagated. Anointed by CNA as his successor, he did emerge, simultaneously with his position as the political face of TN, as a leader of Tamil-speaking people spread across the world. But disintegration of DMK into numerous splinter groups has eroded that position. Like any other Indian politician, Karunanidhi, most of the time, finds himself busy in saving the throne from opposition as well as his own partymen and allies, by hook or by crook.

It is shockingly cruel to see the octogenarian littérateur , at the fag end of his career, getting bogged down in the dirty mire of factional/religious politics. But, that is what actually happened. The CM, who had dedicated his whole life for the betterment of Tamil language, who justifiably prides himself as a rationalist and agnostic, has unwittingly played into the hands of HINDRAF, with a narrow Tamil Hindu constituency, to the alienation of every other interest.

HINDRAF had started off as a small Lawyers’ practice engaged in representing uneducated and poor labourers pitted against authorities, engaged in seeing the law across, taking back squatter land. Its clientele consisted of descendents of Tamil-speaking labourers, brought in by white settlers in Malaya to hunt for, recruit and discipline local hands. These Malaysian Tamils had put up several shrines indiscriminately in government land without title, as well as private land owned by others.

About 80 per cent of Malaysians of Indian origin profess Hinduism and are at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. When the government seeks to dismantle the structures to make way for public projects like roads, after giving notice and alternate land elsewhere, HINDRAF incites these people to resist. Advocates Ganapathy Rao and brothers P Waytha Moorthy and P Uthaya Kumar would then make a big din and file court cases, alleging humiliation, emotional trauma and insensitivity to ‘Hindu’ sentiments by a ‘Muslim’ government.

Innocent Malaysian Tamils may arguably be in a disadvantageous position due to affirmative actions in favour of native Malayans. But, they have to take constructive action to overcome that handicap rather than be led away by radicals. Although not as affluent as Singaporean, Canadian or French Tamils, they have a fairer share of representation in Malaysian society when compared to the say commanded by the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka (Eelam) or even Indian Tamils.

HINDRAF has promised to get compensation of more than $2 million each from UK for having sent their forefathers to Malaysia to the unskilled and perhaps stupid people! Its rally of Nov 25 was for petitioning the British queen to expedite its comical class action suit filed in London as part of its gimmickry. The outfit flourished through such gimmicks by playing the politics of race and religion, exploiting the downtrodden people, rather than encouraging them to upgrade education and skills.While taking to the streets and damaging public property for highlighting grievances has ‘Gandhian’ sanction in India, that is strictly prohibited in Malaysia. (One reason why the country has hurtled past India in every respect.) The country has a systematic mechanism to handle grievances. Since HINDRAF collected a mob, estimated by BBC at 5000-10,000, without permission, the police broke up the rally, to avoid inconveniencing law-abiding citizens.

In India, such demonstrations are normally accompanied by lathi charges, several rounds of fire, severe injuries and deaths. But, the action to disperse the Kuala Lumpur mob was confined to teargas and water-canon. There was only one serious case of scull injury when the mob assaulted a policeman.

Rational Tamil-speaking Malaysians fully appreciate the stern warning of minister Nazri Abdul Aziz, “We are a government elected by people. The human rights of the majority is uppermost in my mind, and if we have to sacrifice the human rights of 6 per cent of the population, don’t challenge us — we will do it.” Any more insane provocation by mobsters brainwashed by HINDRAF could have grave repercussions affecting the image of innocent, hardworking Malaysians of Indian origin.

Taken aback by the big hullabaloo over a normal crowd control exercise, with particularly the Indian media terming it as ill-treatment, barbarian and racist, the Malaysian PM Badawi has suspected that HINDRAF’s bigger motive may be to cause chaos and disturb the peace. It sure appears that HINDRAF is enacting a convoluted drama—addressed at an entirely different front, in collaboration with renegade entities in India and elsewhere.

There may be more than meets the eye to the frequent reference made by the lawyers to the disturbed situation in Sri Lanka and to LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). Uthaya Kumar has been quoted as saying, “Our struggle through legal and peaceful means . . . but, the people have been pushed to the wall. If you push them further, they may indulge in terrorism.” The agenda of Waytha Moorthy at Chennai, New Delhi and other capitals indicates that there is some substance in the apprehension of a larger conspiracy, funded by wealthy elements.

The outfit had sent out a petition to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, stating that a genocide would occur in Malaysia , with the Indian community being forced into violence like in Sri Lanka if their “cause” was ignored. But, Waytha Moorthy in an interview after the rally, said, “I prefer the path of nonviolence. But I don’t rule out the possibility of the protest turning violent in the future, though I hope it does not.” When specifically asked if he will seek or take support from the LTTE, the lawyer said, “I will not seek the support of the LTTE and I hope the LTTE will not offer its support to me.”

Painting LTTE with the same brush as itself is obviously an exercise in deceit. By no stretch of imagination can the Black July massacre in 1983 of more than 1000 Tamils in Sri Lanka that resulted in an exodus of 700,000 people from the country can be equated with the normal crowd control exercise in Kuala Lumpur. While Hindraf is an outfit of a handful of troublemakers of nuisance value, LTTE is a disciplined liberation movement like Palestine Liberation Front that has lost thousands of lives in the last 24 years. It embarked on the goal of an independent homeland only after several bilateral and multilateral negotiations facilitated by Thailand, Germany, Japan and Norway. It has de facto international recognition and administers the massive Tsunami relief program in the areas it holds. Moreover, it will not touch a mercenary outfit like Hindraf with a barge pole.

Apparently well on the way is an international hatchet job, secured through contacts developed during the course of the class action suit in London. It is not to help LTTE as made out to be; but actually to trounce it. The organisation does not believe in whipping up religious fervour even against its Buddhist enemies and it has no love for saffron politics. In fact, India’s Hindutva zealots consider LTTE as a threat to their ‘Akhand Bharat’ ambitions and even continued allegiance from Tamil Nadu. The plan could be to erode the clout LTTE has gained with international negotiators who are brokering peace, by demonizing it. They will be bagging two birds with one stone if a conflict could be engineered between LTTE and ‘Muslim’ Malaysia so that both get ruined!

The perverted lawyers, who could think up the crazy idea of filing a $ 4 trillion lawsuit just to gain publicity mileage, can of course stoop to any depth to carry out mercenary activities. This angle will be clear when the attorney general’s office in Kuala Lumpur completes investigations about the outfit.

HINDRAF’s Waytha Moorthy has claimed in an interview given to an Indian newspaper after his personal meeting with the TN chief minister, “Karunanidhi is extremely sympathetic towards our cause. He has promised me to continue to speak up in our support and follow up the matter with PM Manmohan Singh, despite the barbs from the Malaysian government.” Only Karunanidhi can confirm whether the HINDRAF founder was telling the truth. It is unthinkable that the diabolic saffron gameplan of ‘using’ LTTE to ruin ‘Muslim’ Malaysia really has his blessings.

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