Anti-ISA Vigil Ipoh – Protesting 50 Years Of Human Rights Abuses

Wow. I really haven’t blogged in a while, have I? The rust in my writing and thought process is obvious, so instead of trying to tell a story or impart a point, I will just keep this blog post as a narrative.

The event was an anti-ISA vigil held in Ipoh, one of the 8 spots nationwide selected to protest against the Internal Security Act that was enacted on August 1st 1960. Originally passed as a law of preventive detention to be used against the communist insurgency, it has been abused and misused by those in power to silence dissent, stifle opposition, and even more importantly, stunt the political maturity of Malaysians, the majority of whom till today do not dare to say anything negative about the government in public, regardless of legitimacy.

The event was to be held at the Dataran Bandaraya Ipoh opposite Ipoh Parade, but the police had cordoned off all roads leading to the venue. Eventually, after a few u-turns, I found the group standing beside the street in front of Ipoh Parade. By that time, it was 8pm, but the vigil had obviously not started yet due to the police cordon.

Traffic Police Outside Dataran Bandaraya Ipoh

Traffic Police Outside Dataran Bandaraya Ipoh

Eventually, the organizers decided to take it to the other side of Ipoh Parade facing the Catholic cemetery, which was an extremely smart move by the organizers. By the time the banners started unfurling and candles were lighted (~8.20pm), the police were nowhere to be seen because they were not able to mobilize quick enough.

ISA Vigil Crowd

ISA Vigil Crowd

More ISA Vigil Crowd

More ISA Vigil Crowd

Mansuh ISA Banner

Mansuh ISA Banner

Anti-ISA Banner

Anti-ISA Banner

By the side of the street, amid shouts of “Mansuhkan ISA!”, we obviously got the attention of the citizens of Ipoh, some who honked in support. Honestly, I didn’t expect more than 20 people to be there for the vigil, but was pleasantly surprised to see around 50 people.

ISA Vigil outside Ipoh Parade

ISA Vigil outside Ipoh Parade

It only took the cops 10 minutes to arrive once the vigil went into full swing. As a participant in an ‘illegal assembly’, the police siren is not something you like to hear. The group then packed closer together to make it harder for the police to arrest any stragglers at the fringes, which had been documented in previous rallies.

Arrival of Cops at ISA Vigil

Arrival of Cops at ISA Vigil

When the riot police started getting into gear and a police lockup truck arrived, then we sensed that it was probably time to leave.

Riot Police Getting Into Gear

Riot Police Getting Into Gear

The organizers gave a quick speech, and then after declaring the event a success (IMHO, it was a success even though it lasted less than an hour), we were told to disperse peacefully, which we did.

I rarely do this, but I would like to commend the police in Ipoh for showing restraint, unlike their counterparts in Penang and Selangor who went rabid with arresting close to 30 people in other locations. There were traffic policemen directing traffic and generally trying to keep things safe, and personally, I think if the police just let things take its due course in a peaceful assembly, there would be less drama and paperwork all around. And more happy citizens like me.

So, I end this post today, by explaining why I do not like the ISA. The ISA has shackled the freedom of speech of Malaysians for too long. Remember back then, when people would make fun of Mahathir, and someone comes along and says “shh, careful, after masuk ISA”? Well, it’s still happening today.

What about national security? Yes, what about it? Obviously, the ISA has probably kept our country safer than most due to it’s preventive detention, but at what cost? How many people have been arrested in the name of national security and turned out they were innocent after all? Can we justify putting innocent people into indefinite detention without judicial review, just for the sake of keeping the country safer? Is there no better way? Don’t we already have a act that deals with treason and taking up arms against the country? Can’t we use that law? If there is no substantial evidence to charge a person, can’t we mobilize our intelligence officials and Special Branch to ascertain whether that person is really a threat to national security in the first place?

How about you. Have you wondered if you’ll ever be affected by ISA? Or maybe your kids of grandchildren are arrested under the ISA one day, because they happen to disagree strongly with the government of the day? Then think about the frustration of not being able to do anything for your children, because the judges have no power to overturn the detention except under technical grounds. Perhaps, when we think of the future we want to leave for our descendants, then maybe we would start to care.

Anti-ISA Vigil Candle

Anti-ISA Vigil Candle