August 4, 2009 – 4:26 am

On Saturday (August 1), more than 20,000 people gathered in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur to petition the Agung (King) to end the draconian Internal Security Act. When the police could not break up the gathering, they repeatedly fired tear gas and water cannons into the protestors. By midnight, 586 people had been arrested. Former opposition MP and blogger Sim Kwang Yang gives his support to the anti-ISA movement and especially to the people who braved the police for a just cause.

As I write, at 4.30 pm on Saturday afternoon, following news of the anti-ISA (Internal Security Act) protest in downtown Kuala Lumpur on the Internet, I can imagine how the city centre 8 miles away from my Cheras home has turned into a war zone.

The protesters numbering in the tens of thousands must be playing hide and seek with the massive police presence there. In the past few hours, the Police have arrested hundreds of protesters in various parts of the city. The chemical-laced water canons and tear gas have been deployed, but the crowds do not seem to have been intimidated.

The hectic chaos in KL city centre is reminiscent of the massive protest about 10 years ago after the arrest and detention of Anwar Ibrahim. The happy days of POLITIK JALANRAYA (Main Street Politics) are back again.

In past days and especially today, the city traffic has been trapped in a gridlock. There will be disgruntled shopkeepers and motorists who will complain about the great inconvenience and loss of income caused by the protest. These grumblings will probably be magnified in the mainstream media tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has commented that the anti-ISA protest is unnecessary because the authorities are in the process of reviewing this much hated law.

They still do not get it. The government cannot be trusted to take care of everything; the people must be allowed room in public space on the streets of KL to express their extreme contempt for this law in peaceful manner. This is called people exercising their democratic rights to free assembly and free expression.

I was a little apprehensive that there was a simultaneous pro-ISA protest organised by PERWARIS, a group of Muslim NGOs under the aegis of Ibrahim Ali the Frog. He was himself detained under the ISA twice. But this rally seems insignificant, compared to the huge anti-ISA crowd.

The protesters in KL on Saturday have bravely step forth to face down the police boldly against everything bad about the ISA. The very fact that they are prepared to put their bodies in harm’s way is an indication of their resolve to have this unjust law banished to the rubbish bin of history.

I see those pictures of Police arresting the protesters. Those men do not appear afraid; in fact, the look quite proud of themselves, as they should be.

The ISA was legislated in 1960, giving the police many ultra-constitutional powers to arrest and detain people indefinitely without trial. The rationale was that the Police needed those powers to fight a shadowy communist armed insurgency. I had hated it from the beginning, even when I was a teenager growing up in troubled Sarawak. It just seemed offensive to my young sense of civilised decency.

The protesters in KL on Saturday have bravely step forth to face down the police boldly against everything bad about the ISA. The very fact that they are prepared to put their bodies in harm’s way is an indication of their resolve to have this unjust law banished to the rubbish bin of history.

The Communist insurgency has since been defeated, and yet the ISA continued to be used by the Barisan Nasional (National Front) government to detain and arrest their political foes in the opposition as well as vocal dissidents, government critics, and NGO activists.

The giant shadow of the ISA, like Bentham’s panopticon, imposed a regime of fear among Malaysians of all shapes and persuasions, limiting the people’s mind to the exclusive brain-control programmes through the schools and the mainstream media. Fortunately, new generations of young Malaysians have been born. They grow up without the memories or personal experience of the communist insurgency or the 1987 Operation Lalang.

They have been awakened and motivated by the new reform agenda that transcends race and religion. Above all, they are better informed by the alternative media of the Internet. The mind-control that used to work so well through the traditional media is now much despised.

I look back to the time 30 years ago, when I first took part in active politics. People were fearful. Even my own relatives and friends were afraid to be seen with me in public.

I remember an Iban friend who had a Ph. D. I was trying to recruit him into politics. He asked me all the questions, including the pay for an MP, and what perks there were. Finally he asked about the ISA. I had to tell him that arrest under the ISA is always a possibility for people in the opposition political frontline. He said he could not handle that, and so he stayed out of politics.

Looking at the dramatic images streaming from malaysiakini by the hour now, I am happy. Malaysia has changed for the better, even though the government has not. There are so many young people of all races ready to face arrest just to try to change the future of this country. I could not dream of this happening 30 or 20 years ago. Tonight, hundreds of these people will have to spend their night in a police lock up. It is just a small inconvenience for a noble cause. It is also a badge of honour for anyone wanting to be publicly engaged to change the destiny of this country.

I hope none will die in police detention tonight, or else that would be cause for another larger mass rally on the streets of KL. Let us share solidarity with those concerned brave souls on the streets of KL, and spread this message through cyber-sphere:

Absolutely no to ISA!

Note: Sim Kwang Yang was Democratic Action Party MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak 1982-1995. Since retiring in 1995, he has become a freelance writer in the Chinese-language press, and taught philosophy in a local college for three years. He is now working with an NGO in Kuala Lumpur, the Omnicron Learning Circle, which is aimed at continuing learning for working adults and college students. He has his own blog, hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com. Suggestions and feedback can reach him at [email protected]

Also visit Malaysia Today for more updates.

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