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ATimes: Malaysia: Who's next? (ISA)
By Anil Netto

28/4/2001 8:52 pm Sat

[Setiap kali ISA digunakan, ia membawa petanda Mahathir menghadapi satu saingan yang amat sengit yang menggugat keselamatanan dirinya - bukannya keselamatan negara.

Operasi Lalang pada tahun 1987 muncul ketika Mahathir berdepan dengan cabaran di dalam Umno oleh Ku Li tetapi lain orang pula menjadi mangsa. Sejak itu protes terhadap ISA semakin meningkat bila bertembung dengan arus perjuangan reformasi.

Tangkapan kali ini menunjukkan ketakutan Mahathir terhadap ketokohan kepimpinan parti keADILan kerana mereka mampu menarik sokongan PELBAGAI KAUM dinegara ini dengan berkesan. Tidak seperti PAS, capaian keADILan amat luas sehingga gula-gula BN tidak laku jadinya - Lunas itulah BUKTInya. Mereka ditangkap mungkin kerana Pilihanraya Sarawak yang bakal menjelma.

Penangkapan Raja Petra, dan Pak Din dijangka ada kena mengena dengan peranan Internet untuk mendidik dan menaikkan semangat rakyat. Pak Din adalah penyumbang tetap laman manakala Raja Petra amat agresif dengan laman Kerajaan baru-baru ini berhasrat mengkaji semula Akta Percetakkan dan Penerbitan untuk meliputi aspek IT juga.

Soalnya sekarang - siapakah mangsa yang seterusnya? Dia tentunya mempunyai kepakaran menarik sokongan rakyat marhain dengan banyaknya juga sehingga tergugat Mahathir dengan teruknya menjelang Perhimpunan Agung Umno. Kesukaran menangkapnya menunjukkan kebijaksanaan polis tidaklah sehebat mana walaupun telah membelanjakan berjuta-juta untuk melingkupkannya.

Yang dikirim cuma khabar angin untuk menangkapnya sahaja kerana polis tidak mempunyai tanda (hint) apa-apa. Siapakah dia pejuang yang cuba ditangkap dengan khabar angin itu? Apakah kerana ia sudah menjalar di bawah tanah (underground) maka menjejakkinya hanya membuang masa sahaja? - Editor]

Asia Times
20th April 2001


Malaysia: Who's next?

By Anil Netto

It seemed like just any other day, but it was not to be. Badaruddin Ismail was having breakfast on Thursday near Kuala Lumpur when five plainclothes policemen surrounded him, asked his name, and took him away without saying why they were arresting him.

He was the 10th activist to be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) this month. The ongoing swoop on reformasi activists under the draconian ISA has left many Malaysians with a sense of deja vu. The crackdown has brought back memories of Operasi Lallang (Operation Wild Grass) in 1987, when police rounded up more than 100 dissidents under the same law, which allows indefinite detention without trial.

But if the authorities are hoping to quell dissent with the latest swoop, they will have to contend with some crucial differences in the political environment. The arrests in 1987 came at a time when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was facing a strong leadership challenge from within his United Malays National Organization (Umnno) from former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

At that time, the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim was a youth leader in the Mahathir administration, which was opposed in Parliament by the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the multiethnic, Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP). Fourteen years on, it is Anwar who finds himself in custody, while it is Razaleigh who is now a dark horse in the succession race. Razaleigh returned to Umno in 1996 after an eight-year stint in the opposition.

But Anwar, though behind bars, has refused to fade away and is now embroiled in a tussle over whether he should be allowed to travel abroad to undergo specialist spinal surgery.

When the ISA crackdown began in 1987, most Malaysians were cowed into silence. This time around, the public apathy is still there, but there are more groups speaking out. Rights groups, the Bar Council, women's groups and other citizens' groups have condemned the detentions.

Since 1998, when Anwar himself was initially detained under the ISA, public opposition to the Act has swelled. Proof of this was seen during two demonstrations against the Act at the Kamunting Detention Camp near Taiping, where detainees are housed after the harsh initial 60-day interrogation period at unknown locations.

In October 1997, only about 200 activists of all ethnic groups gathered outside the gates of the dreaded Kamunting Camp to mark the 10th anniversary of Operasi Lallang. Flash forward, same place, three years later: another protest gathering last year to mark the 40th anniversary of the ISA. This time with the onset of the reformasi, unleashed in September 1998, the crowd swelled to 3,000, made up largely of ordinary ethnic Malays, with a sprinkling of ethnic Chinese and Indians.

The revulsion against the ISA heightened after Anwar emerged in court later in 1998 with a black eye, and has continued to grow. Former detainees have alleged that they were verbally and physically abused during relentless harsh questioning by rotating teams of interrogators, deprived of sleep and cut off from the outside world.

The ISA was heavily criticized and rarely used after 1998, but it remains on the statute books as a handy "catch-all" law that affords little protection to detainees. Testimony by high-ranking police officers during the Anwar trial described how police used interrogation techniques to "turn over" and "neutralize" detainees.

But what has changed is that unlike 1987, when Malay opposition stemmed from rifts and factions in the Umno hierarchy, the ethnic Malay disquiet this time comes from the grass roots and is harder to contain.

Mahathir may on the surface appear to be in control of Umno, but the reality of the Malay ground has shifted towards the National Justice Party (Keadilan), headed by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and PAS since the last general election in 1998. Malays, along with other indigenous groups, comprise about 60 percent of the country's 23 million people.

While many analysts have said the real threat to Umno is PAS, the arrests suggest the authorities appear more concerned about Keadilan. Most of the 10 activists detained are linked to Keadilan and are either skilled orators or know how to draw in the crowds for peaceful demonstrations. Though PAS draws huge crowds at its rallies in the Malay-Muslim heartland, Keadilan's appeal cuts across ethnic barriers, putting it in a strong position to challenge Mahathir's ruling coalition in the next general election.

The police say the 10 arrested were part of a militant-type group that is increasingly prepared to use violent means to topple the government. Opposition leaders scoffed at the allegation and have challenged the authorities to charge the 10 in court if they have any evidence to show that they were involved in such activities.

Many of those arrested were expected to have been actively involved in the Sarawak state elections, due to be held by September. Sarawak is considered a ruling coalition stronghold but the entry of Keadilan and other peninsula-based opposition parties comes at a time when there appear to be cracks in the Sarawak ruling coalition's leadership.

Psychologically, the ruling coalition can ill afford to allow the opposition to make inroads in Sarawak after losing in a ruling coalition constituency in a by-election in Mahathir's home state of Kedah last November.

There is another difference from 1987. Then, there was no Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). Set up in April 2000, the government-appointed commission has criticized the latest ISA arrests. Perhaps responding to persistent criticism that it is not doing enough to prevent human violations, (Suhakam) issued a statement calling on the authorities to release the detainees. "If they have committed any offense, they should be charged and tried in an open court," it said.

Perhaps the most crucial factor accounting for the sustained support for reformasi and the scathing criticism of the ISA has been the Internet. A slew of websites, including independent news portals, have created greater awareness of human rights and rights abuses. Although only some 10 percent of Malaysians have access to the Internet, news items are often printed out or spread by word-of-mouth.

The latest detainee, Badaruddin, 56, from the human rights group Suaram, is a leading contributor to the Komentar (Commentary) website. He is the second website contributor to be arrested after Raja Petra Kamarudin, who wrote for the Free Anwar Campaign website.

Few were surprised when the government recently indicated it wants to amend the Printing Presses and Publications Act to make it more relevant to the Information Technology era, a statement that critics fear could lead to more control over the Internet.

For now, Malaysians are wondering who will be next on the ISA list. While demonstrations have ceased, the discontent is likely to continue to simmer below the surface.