Bila Melayu sudah faham…
11:45AM Apr 9, 2012 Malaysiakini.com
ISA FOCUS “There was a robbery at my home in 1987,” Anne Munro-Kua told a press conference on the morning of Malaysia Day last year.
It was the day after Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that the government would repeal the Internal Security Act, which provides for detention without trial.
Sitting alongside other former detainees and their families, Munro-Kua said: “That day, the police committed the robbery. They robbed me of my husband.”
Her husband Kua Kia Soong (right) was one of 106 people arrested under the Operasi Lalang net. It would be two years before Kua would be released.
With two young children in tow, Munro-Kua, with the family members of the other ISA detainees, set up the Detainees’ Family Support Group. The anti-ISA movement was born.
The support group campaigned for the release of the Ops Lalang detainees, through media and public campaigns, but when the last batch of these detainees were released in 1989, their campaign took on a larger scale.
It gave birth to Suaram, the NGO which would be on the forefront of the campaign for the abolition of the ISA.
Alongside Suaram, said one-time Suaram coordinator Elizabeth Wong, was Persatuan Kebangsaan Hak Asasi Manusia (Hakam), which was once described as one of the most vocal NGOs against human rights transgressions.
Bar Council played a key role
“The Bar Council was instrumental in the formation of Hakam in 1989 and the legal fraternity supported the movement as it went on,” Wong said in an interview with Malaysiakini.
With professionals leading the movement, Wong admitted, the campaign took a more “elitist” flavour.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she added, society was less open to the idea of abolishing the ISA. The “atmosphere” of fear was also very pervasive at that time, so the campaign was quite muted.
Much of the campaign was also concentrated in the urban areas, among the English-speaking populace which reflected the demographics of the Ops Lalang detainees. The family members of detainees who spoke out would be families of those with political links.
“There were a number of arrests from 1996 onwards. The Shi’ite followers, the Sabah arrests, a couple of cases to do with immigration and counterfeiting, but nothing so political,” Wong (right) said.
Now a Selangor state executive councillor, Wong said the campaign took a turning point in 1998, with the sacking and subsequent arrest under the ISA of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
“Some 30 people were arrested under the ISA then and they were from the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim), and groups closely linked with Anwar. The people arrested then depended on the political situation,” she said.
The arrests, she said, raised awareness of the draconian nature of the ISA among the grassroots, especially those who supported or identified with the influential Islamic NGOs.
The Reformasi crackdown in 2001, which resulted in the arrest of 10 people, including the now-Umno senator Ezam Mohd Noor and PKR’s MP Tian Chua, also raised the profile of the anti-ISA movement.
“More Muslim NGOs came on board following the 2001 arrests of individuals who were accused of being part of the Jemaah Islamiah,” Wong said.
Among those arrested in the ‘Muslim militant’ sweep was Mat Sah Satray, who was nabbed in 2002.
For six months, his wife Norlaila Othman, a teacher, would visit him in Kamunting, not knowing what she could do to get her husband out.
“This was, until I met the Family Support Group in Kamunting. It was then organised by the wives of the Reformasi detainees… I took the baton from them,” the mother of one told Malaysiakini.
The group members, Norlaila (at left with son Shuaib) said, would not only provide emotional support for one another, but raise funds and arrange for legal aid for families of detainees.
“We would check in to find out who these detainees were, how many children they had, whether their spouses were working, whether they could support themselves, and so on,” she said.
Fortunate to have an anonymous sponsor for the first two years of her husband’s detention (“I still don’t know who the person is”), Norlaila took unpaid leave and worked full-time for the anti-ISA movement.
“We educated a lot of people about the ISA, especially the Malays, who didn’t know about this law from the viewpoint of real victims and their families.
“We don’t know why (my husband) was taken away from our home, he was never given a full trial. When we tell people that, they want to know why.
Gradually, the Malays understood the ISA
“We then explain to them that the core evil of ISA is detention without trial, so that the Malays especially can understand that it’s just a political tool,” she said.
Norlaila’s campaign was mostly with the grassroots, but at times, she found herself educating lawyers about the ISA – some of whom, she said, were surprised that her husband was still held beyond the 60-day initial detention.
Her husband would spend a total of eight years in detention, missing crucial years in the life of their only son. (Mat Sah would later blog that he would reach for 16-year-old Shuaib’s hand when crossing the road, thinking that the boy was still eight).
It was within these eight years that Norlaila saw a marked change in society towards the anti-ISA campaign. The process was gradual, she said, but the “warm reception” she received at her speaking engagements in the sixth year of her husband’s detention, in 2008, was “a world away” from that in 2002.
“When Pakatan won several states, people started to grow braver and spoke out. The Hindraf arrests in 2007 were also prominent. When the Hindraf leaders were arrested, Indians started asking us: What is ISA?” she said.
In 2009, Norlaila had the honour of addressing a United Nations Human Rights Convention in Geneva, but it was the anti-ISA rally in August of the same year that marked the height of the movement.
Some 20,000 people thronged Kuala Lumpur in support of Gerakan Mansuh ISA – a loose coalition of 32 NGOs working against ISA that was formed in 2008 – and were met with tear gas and arrests.
“That thousands of people came and wanted ISA abolished, it was proof that people understood.”
The article is part of Malaysiakini‘s focus series on the Internal Security Act, leading up to its repeal, which is expected to tabled in this ongoing sitting of Parliament.