Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement that the ISA and the Emergency Ordinance would be repealed has taken the nation by surprise. He also announced that Section 27 of the Police Act (on public assemblies) and the requirement for publishing permits to be renewed annually would be dropped.
Most people would be inclined to welcome these announcements. But we would be well advised to temper any celebration with caution. What will replace these oppressive laws is not clear and has not yet been revealed in much detail.
The repeal of the ISA and EO is an acknowledgement that the government can no longer sustain the use of these laws without strong public condemnation and opposition. The repeal of these two laws is the only logical move.
Massive public rallies have driven the final nail into the coffin of these obnoxious laws. The people, inspired and spurred on by the civil society Abolish ISA Movement (GMI), have won a remarkable victory through their persistent and determined opposition to the ISA. For that, the people have to be congratulated.
The repeal of the ISA and EO, however, will not erase the suffering of all the detainees down the ages who have unjustly suffered at the hands of an oppressive state apparatus. Countless lives have been ruined. An independent tribunal is needed to look into all cases of ill-treatment and torture, psychological or otherwise, that have surfaced over the years. Those who have been abused and ill-treated and incarcerated without trial for years – or their families – must be adequately compensated. Those responsible for ill-treating or abusing detainees must be brought to book as a lesson for others who may be tempted to continue in similar ways.
Meanwhile, other laws that restrict human rights such as the Sedition Act, the Police Act, the Universities and University Colleges Act and the Official Secrets Act must also be repealed as a sign of sincerity on the part of the BN. The same goes for other preventive detention laws.
As for publishing permits, do democratic countries really require permits for publishing newspapers and other periodicals? If the Minister revokes a “permit”, can it now be challenged in court? In the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression, the government should also make a commitment towards creating a Freedom of Information Act. If not, there is nothing to celebrate.
To demonstrate its commitment to international human rights norms, the Malaysian government must now ratify all UN human rights treaties such as the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Refugee Rights Convention. This will convince Malaysians that the BN is serious about respecting human rights.
It is also important to put in place a truly independent judiciary so that the courts will not be used to persecute political opponents. To restore the independence of the judiciary, appointments of judges must be made based on merit and not on political considerations as perceived by a vast majority of Malaysians.
For now, in the spirit of these announcements and to mark Malaysia Day, Aliran calls on the Malaysian government to drop all charges against the PSM 30 and others arrested before and during the Bersih rally. This would be a welcome gesture on this auspicious day.
Aliran Executive Committee
Malaysia Day, 16 September 2011