The article below was written on the eve of Malaysia Day, 2011.
It has been a year since the Prime Minister announced the doing-away with the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinances. It was my hope that the move would have been reciprocated with more mature acts by activists and opposition-linked movements. The introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act, 2012 was a good move in regulating both the authorities and assembly-organizers alike, but I don’t think the police were ready in their understanding of the requirements of the said law. The organizers were just bent on breaking whatever law there is.
Looking back, I don’t know if doing away with the ISA was a good thing. It was a good move; but being popular does not mean it is always necessarily a good thing. All it needed was some tweaking to prevent it from being abused to achieve political and/or personal means.
In the New Straits Times dated 30th July 2006, Santha Oorjitham interviewed Mr Reginald Hugh Hickling, who assisted in drafting the Federal Constitution and the Internal Security Act, 1960:
Oorjitham: “Is it time for a review of the ISA? What about article 149 and 150 of the Federal Constitution, which permits infringement of human rights during emergencies, but only when necessary?”
Hickling: “With terrorism around the world, I don’t think it’s a good time.”
Oorjitham: “In 1987, you called for a review of the Constitution. Do you still think it is needed?”
Hickling: “No. It is not a good time. You have worldwide terrorism which acts as an inhibition against changing laws. You really want to tighten up laws rather than to relax them.”
“Sometimes a brave thing like this is necessary” – Tun Mohammed Hanif bin Omar, former Inspector-General of Police, commenting on the Prime Minister’s speech as it was being delivered to the nation.
I heard the Prime Minister’s 54th Merdeka cum Malaysia Day speech – all 33 paragraphs, on the radio. It is addressing the people’s concerns. When he took over the helm as the Prime Minister of Malaysia in April of 2009, he promised that he would study the Internal Security Act, 1960 comprehensively. Tonight, he announced that the Act itself would be abolished. So would the Banishment Act, 1959, Restricted Residence Act, 1933, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1984. Apart from that, Section 27 of the Police Act, 1967 will be reviewed in the spirit of Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution.
The ISA will be replaced by an anti-terrorism Act that would only deal with subversive elements and elements of terrorism, and it would not be as sweeping as the ISA was.
How do I feel about it?
We will be celebrating our 48th year as Malaysia, and it is about time Malaysians show some degree in maturity and accountability in the way they write, speak and act. It is time for Malaysians to open up instead of having myopic views about things that do not represent their beliefs, be it personal or political. It is all about self-censorship. It is about nation-building, not nation-demolishing. It is telling us all to stop manipulating each other, or lie about things when we know the truth. It is about standing up not for ourselves, but for the longevity of this nation.
For BERSIH and the Police, it would mean that the rakyat have a better chance at exercising their freedom to assemble, of course within the limits of the law. The application for a permit to assemble has to be submitted to the police beforehand with all the prerequisites met. If they are met, the police will have to issue a permit and ensure that whilst the rights to assemble by one party is being upheld, the right to the use of roads by road users, the right to the peaceful conduct of business or life of others are also protected. If there is a dispute, both parties (organisers and the police) will have to fulfill the requirements of the law by going for a judicial review. The court of law has the final say – definitely not the organisers, definitely not the police.
It also means those who prefer to cause alarm through their seditious words will be dealt with other laws such as the Penal Code or the Sedition Act. Gone will be the days when the Prime Minister could order for the arrest of a journo just because she wrote something he personally did not like, or something to that effect. Journos should also be more responsible with what they write – write facts with a clear head and not driven by emotions. Write facts and not fabricate lies for political mileage and so on.
It also means the cry for the abolishment of the ISA and other laws deemed by the people to be oppressive now no longer need to be continued – as it is time for all of us Malaysians to stop whatever it is that we are doing that is tearing us as one people apart and start thinking collectively as one people instead of claiming that this small group of “we” represent the people as a whole. Remember, there is always two sides to a coin.
It also means the Police will now have more work to do in accordance to whatever laws they have left to guide them. But it would also mean that the Inspector-General of Police would have to educate his men that knowledge of the law is not to be taken lightly. How the absence of certain laws will dictate how our society would behave after today remains to be seen, as would the after-effects of this decision by the Prime Minister.
Ponder upon this – soon after the May 1969 tragedy, Malaysians were more cohesive than they are now. If you truly value this land we call our home, defend it together, not against one another. Use this new-found “freedom” to unite.
Selamat Menghayati Erti Kemerdekaan dan Selamat Mendalami Makna Penubuhan Malaysia.
Reginald Hugh Hickling also once said,
“As a lawyer, I’m all for its review but on whether it should be scrapped, I don’t know. You’ve got a multi-racial society [in Malaysia] in which emotions can run high very quickly.”
And in an interview on the Internal Security Act with Geoff Thompson on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2001 said that he was “sorry to say that, in the light of my own experience, I’m inclined to think you couldn’t really safely get rid of it at the moment.”
A mere five months later, his fears were realised by worldwide terrorist attacks.