While Tun Razak at least had the gumption to meet up in with representatives of ISA detainees on a hunger strike in 1967 to try and end their fast, what have we got from his son Najib, asks Tan Pek Leng.
History sometimes has a cruel way of repeating itself – the acts of cruelty rendered the more revolting because they are first perpetuated by the father, then the son.
The two rounds of hunger strikes at Kamunting over the past three months bring to mind the same form of protest carried out by political prisoners at the Batu Gajah and Muar detention centres – the precursors to Kamunting – from 26 May to 10 June 1967, almost exactly 45 years ago.
The hunger strike was launched by 39 detainees in Batu Gajah – members of the Labour Party of Malaya (LPM) and the Parti Rakyat Malaya (PRM) – to call for unconditional release or be brought to open trial; an end to torture while under police custody; improved conditions at the detention centre, etc. On 29 May, 30 detainees in Muar – also members of the LPM and PRM – joined the hunger strike.
The families of the detainees, who were refused visitation rights, decided to picket outside the Batu Gajah detention centre and camped in front of it for three nights, until they were dispersed by the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) with tear gas.
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Do most of the above sound eerily familiar?
But at least in those somewhat better days 45 years ago, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Home Minister Tun Abdul Razak agreed to meet with family members of the hunger strikers – after the appeal and intervention of opposition leader Tan Chee Khoon. In the course of a 60-minute meeting on the 13th day of the hunger strike, a four-person delegation was set up, comprising the Principal Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Assistant Secretary-General of the LPM, the wife of one of the detainees and one of the detainees who was an LPM leader and medical doctor.
This delegation met with the hunger strikers for five hours the following day, 10 June, and the latter agreed to end their protest action on the assurance of Tun Razak that he would look into the recommendations of a committee set up to investigate the grievances of the detainees as soon as the committee’s report was ready.
But before we congratulate Tun Razak on his magnanimity, it would be wise to recall that it was he, as Deputy Prime Minister, who tabled in Parliament, on 22 April 1960, the constitutional amendment that would enable the promulgation of the Internal Security Act (ISA). He also had a big hand in incarcerating under the ISA those who did not agree with him politically during his watch as Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister.
While we are at it, let’s bury this myth that there were any golden days of democracy under the Tunku-Razak regime.
So are we to congratulate current Prime Minister Najib son of Tun Razak for his magnanimity in repealing that draconian law that his father has put in place? Hardly, for the Security Offences Act that replaced it is deemed more dangerous by many.
And while Tun Razak at least had the gumption to meet up with the representatives of the detainees to try and end the hunger strike, what have we got from Najib?
That deafening inelegant silence one has come to expect whenever issues of public concern surface.
There was no word from him when detainees launched their first hunger strike on 10 May 2012 to draw attention to the fact that the abrogation of the ISA had left them in the cold.
No word from him either when harrowing torture notes smuggled out of Kamunting documented gross violations of human rights.
Not a word when it was reported that the hunger strikers were threatened with longer terms of detention if they did not end the protest action.
Not a squeak when against all previous conventions, schoolteacher Bakar Baba was issued with a letter of termination of employment. Previous detainees in the public service had always retained their positions and continued to receive their salaries while under detention because they were considered political prisoners, not criminals.
He waited it out in total silence until the detainees had to call off their hunger strike under duress – having been put in solitary confinement and subjected to continuous harassment.
Perhaps he thought it was for his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, who is after all the Home Minister, to handle the situation. He should have known better. The first time Hisham opened his mouth, he demonstrated his idiocy by claiming that the May hunger strike was an attempt to hijack the transformation programme.
Then, he also followed his Prime Minister cousin’s example and kept quiet for the first 11 days of the second hunger strike. When he broke his silence, it was only to tweet that he would provide all the clarifications the following week. But the clarifications never came.
Instead, he demonstrated his callousness with a tweet five days later to the effect that while the detainees’ choice might be a hunger strike, his was a lamb chop.
Is it not time the citizens exercise their choice and chop off these gangrenes from our body politic? Is it not time we strike where it hurts them most – at the ballot box – to reclaim the freedom and justice we hunger for?
Tan Pek Leng is an Aliran member