Friday, September 16, 2011

Malaysia opens up. When will Singapore?

Friday, 16 September 2011
Singapore Democrats  (source)

The Malaysian Government took a decisive step towards democracy when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the notorious Internal Security Act would be repealed and laws restricting freedom of assembly would be changed to meet international standards.

This development is significant because the ISA and other anti-democratic laws are shared by Malaysia and Singapore. They were devised by the British during colonial rule to detain without trial independence fighters.

The ISA has since been repeatedly used by both the PAP and Barisan Nasional to imprison opposition leaders, trade unionists, journalists, and student activists who have opposed their rule.

In Singapore national leaders like Mr Chia Thye Poh, Dr Lim Hock Siew and Mr Said Zahari were cruelly snatched from their families and locked up without being given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. Mr Chia was imprisoned for 23 years, Dr Lim 20 and Mr Said 17 years.

In the early 1960s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had worked with the Malaysians and British to detain his archrival Mr Lim Chin Siong who was the PAP's popular leader and much loved by Singaporeans. (Read Lim Chin Siong vs Lee Kuan Yew: The true and shocking history)

Many others were not only locked up but also brutally beaten. The late Ho Piao, a trade union leader, was severely tortured by ISD officers. His ordeal is documented in the 1978 Amnesty International Report. According to the report, Ho was tied to a wooden chair, strangled, and repeatedly punched and kicked in the head.

Ho testified: "They pulled me from the floor and tied me to the chair. Another group came in to torture me. The torture went on for four days. I did not eat or sleep for four days."

More recently Mr Vincent Cheng, now SDP's Vice-Chairman, was acused of plotting to violently overthrow the PAP Government and detained under the ISA. During his incarceration, Mr Cheng was punched and slapped by ISD officers to get him to confess to acts he did not commit (watch Vincent Cheng's vidoes below).

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His fellow ISA detainee Ms Teo Soh Lung, also a Singapore Democrat who stood as a candidate in the last elections, has now written a book Beyond the Blue Gate detailing her experience behind bars. She and other detainees have called for a commission of inquiry to look into the abuse of the law.

The Singapore Democrats have long called for the ISA to be abolished. The ISA and laws such as the Public Order Act which bans public protests are put in place solely to prop up PAP's undemocratic rule

The Malaysian Government has seen that trying to repress the people's aspirations to freedom in today's world is futile, serving only to keep the country backward and uncompetitive.

When will the PAP realise the same?

Malaysia to abolish unpopular security law
Eileen Ng
The Associated Press
16 Sept 2011

Malaysia will abolish an unpopular, colonial-era security law allowing detention without trial and relax other measures curbing the media and the right to free assembly, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Thursday.

The policy changes are the boldest by Najib since he took the helm in April 2009 and are seen as a move to bolster support for his ruling coalition ahead of general elections, which are not due until 2013 but are widely expected next year.

Najib said the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial, would be replaced with two new anti-terrorism laws that would ensure that basic human rights of suspects are protected. He pledged that no individuals would be detained for their political ideologies.

Critics have long called for the security law to be repealed, saying that the government has abused it to silence dissidents.

Najib said the government also would lift three emergency declarations and amend police laws to allow freedom of assembly according to international norms. He said a law requiring annual printing and publishing licenses would be repealed, giving more freedom to media groups.

The move to have a more open democracy is "risky but we are doing it for our survival," he said in speech on national television.

The speech was to mark Friday's anniversary of the 1963 union of peninsula Malaysia with Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo, six years after the country's independence from British rule.

"It is time for Malaysians to move forward with new hope," he said. "Let there be no doubt that the Malaysia we are creating is a Malaysia which has a functional and inclusive democracy."

Najib's National Front has been working to regain public support after suffering its worst performance in 2008 polls, when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's alliance wrested more than one-third of Parliament's seats amid public allegations of government corruption and racial discrimination.

The National Front's popularity recently took a dip after authorities arrested more than 1,600 demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons against at least 20,000 people who marched for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

Read also: Francis Seow: A day of ignominy, Said Zahari's The Long Nightmare (2007), That We May Dream Again (2009) and Our Thoughts are Free (2009).

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