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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Human Condition

The Human Condition

I was seventeen when Operasi Lalang took place.

In Singapore for my A Levels, I was far removed from the drama that preceded and followed the massive Internal Security Act crackdown of 1987. Loathe as I am to admit it now, I have to confess to having been largely ignorant of the political tensions that had led to the mass detentions and even less so about the kind of things that could happen to a Malaysian if he or she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ISA was simply something that never really came up in conversation.

Until that year.

Karpal Singh and wife, Gurmeet, have been family friends for as long as I can remember. They still are. I was in school with four of their five children, being particularly close to the two eldest, Jagdeep (Penang State Assembly member) and Gobind (Member of Parliament). As they were closer to my age, we had more in common, having the kind of fun and getting into the kind of trouble that teenagers would. It was a time of hilarity, not an unhealthy dose of stupidity and, above all, great friendship. Something that Mr Karpal figured in as much as he could despite his insanely busy schedule.

I was told that Mr Karpal had been detained by my mother in a terse telephone conversation. Everyone was fearing the worst, the unfolding events were reminiscent of May 13, far fresher in the mind then than it is now.

It took me a while to come to grips with the notion that Mr Karpal had been detained. Ignorant, I asked my mother what crime he had committed; he was a lawyer after all and a man who stood by the law. She had a difficult time trying to make me understand how it is that the Government could detain someone at will, for no crime other than standing up for his principles. I laughed when she told me that the Government had declared that Mr Karpal was a threat to national security. I stopped laughing when I realized that she was being serious.

I thought of the boys, my friends, wondering how they were taking it. Their father had disappeared into an unknown that was terrifying for its lack of shape and form. Stories of abuse and mistreatment were leaking through, stories that have more recently been given form by the award of RM2.5 million in damages to Malik Hussein for his being tortured during his detention in 1998.

I could not return to Kuala Lumpur then so I saw Jagdeep a few months later when he visited. He was no longer the playful and mischievous boy I had last seen about six months earlier. There was a stillness and resolve I had not seen before. He was quiet, withdrawn and spent most of the visit talking about how sad and angry he was; for not being able to do anything for his father, or his mother, and at the unfairness and utter injustice of it all. Dr Mahathir had taken away his father with the flick of a pen with no real thought of what it is that was being done to the family. Or perhaps that was part of the strategy, a conclusion that the continued detention of the HINDRAF 5 points to.

I saw Gobind a short while later. His emotions were a reflection of those of his brother. The anger was palpable.

Those impressions have lived on in my mind and heart. I have seen the same emotions play over the faces of those I have tried to help in the years since; anger, pain and a deep resentment at the arbitrariness and arrogance of power.

In 2001 a team of lawyers – Haji Sulaiman Abdullah, R Sivarasa, Christopher Leong and I - argued an ISA habeas corpus appeal in the Federal Court. In the course of submissions, we pointed to the fact that even during the height of apartheid in South Africa, the liberties of individuals detained under a similar preventive detention law had been better protected, as marginally as that may have been, by the courts there. It was a point that struck home both in court and outside it. I had thought that I could think of no better way to illustrate how oppressive the ISA and the system that supports it are

That impression changed recently. ISA detainee, Shahrial Sirin, has been in detention without trial for seven years. On July 2nd this year, his seventeen-year-old daughter, Aina, was admitted to Kajang Hospital, her death imminent. Shahrial only came to know of Aina’s condition the next morning and, after struggling with red tape, left Kamunting under escort at 5 pm. Aina died before he could reach her. He was prevented from being with his daughter by nothing more than the administrative whimsy of a Minister who for his own, wholly subjective, reasons believes that Shahrial is a threat.

Just as any one of us could be.

The ISA is a cruel law. There is no justification for its continued existence or any system that supports it. I am beginning to think that if the Pakatan Rakyat can promise us nothing more than the repeal of the ISA, it deserves to form the government. We can build everything else from there.

If a person has committed a crime, then let him or her be charged and tried in court. No wrong is so evil that it deserves to be exempted from this process. The presumption of innocence and freedom are not fictitious notions, they are the essence of the human condition.

(Malay Mail; 15th July 2008)



Mr. Smith said...

Boys of your age then were not interested in politics. So you are excused.
But I was 41 then and I had sleepless nights thinking how cruel a regime could be to detain some of the finest Malaysians we have ever known. Lim Kit Siang and his son were also detained. Imagine how Mrs Kim would have suffered. Since that day the man I hated most in my life has been Mahathir. He has a heart of stone and I hope he burns in hell.
I was one of the first to send a post card to Mahathir calling on him to charge those 120 detained in court or set them free.
Many of my friends discouraged me from doing that as they too were frightened like hell to even send a protest postcard.
But the saddest part was I saw Malaysians shamelessly oblivious to the abuse of the ISA. They kept voting for this evil regime.
I feel sick as I write this. Real sick.
Now you know I have never voted for BN in eight general elections?

Anonymous said...

Dear Malik,
I can empathise with your feelings. I admire that you have put those feelings to good use by defending those who are are deprived of justice.
I was first-hand witness to both May 13 and Operation Lallang. Some people I knew just disappeared aftermath of the May 13 never to surface again. I have seen suffering victims in hospital. I know how innocent people were vitimised.
As for OP L, I totally agree with your views on ISA.
But unlike Mr Smith I do not hate Dr M and wish him hell. That is for God to decide. I really feel sorry for Dr M, a man of considerable intelligence and ability who could have been truly a statesman.
On a personal note.My sons were for a while classmates of the two youngers boys of Karpal. Karpal is a real gentle person in spite of his fierce looks. I am glad his children have taken after him

DIASPORA said...

My only wish before I die is to see Mahathir and his family and His cohorts ensconced in Kamunting so that they can enjoy the fruits of their awesome urge for 'Power".

I remember very well the night Mrs Karpal, her sister and the son turned up at our Government residence along Jalan Damansara, Kuala Lumpur appealing for help when Karpal was arrested near Parit Buntar after he was released by the Courts from further royal residence in Kamunting.

Karpal at that time was suffering from severe back pain probably fue renal problems.

We were fortunately in a posiition to help - do not ask how - and Mrs Karpal was able to see her husband daily and feed him his chappattis. This may be a forgotten event for Karpal and his family by now.

I was over 40 years then and can still see the fear and dread and whites in the faces of those three people sitting in our patio refusing even to take a drink. Not because they were not thrirsty BUT how could someone in their position at that point of time even take a sip of water. At lease Jusus on the cross was able to sip the vinegar that the Roman soldiers offered him.

From that dat till today I bear that hurt and agony and my death wish will be fulfilled when Mahathir and his remaining crowd of looters and rapists of the land in UMNO, MIC and MCA are given the same justice they gave their 'victims'.

The cohorts of Mahathir also include his 'cronies' and sycophants in the Courts, the Civil Service and the Police.

Mahathir will go down in history on an equal status with Saddam, Mugabe; and their ilk. It is said that the children have to ' Bear the Sins of the Fathers'. God Forbid that this has to happen.

Anonymous said...

I feel for those who have suffered through the abuse of the ISA,

When I was child, I knew of somebody who too have suffered from the might of such abuse.

This somebody was an active member of the SDP (I think it's the Social Democratic Party which then had a symbol of a black bull head).

I remember listening in to him re-calling to the adults the torture and suffering he was subjected to.

I think it must have broken him physically and mentally, and, he finally took his own life leaving behind his sad wife to raise his young children single handedly.

His sad tale is just another unknown tale of a forgotten casualty.

Junah said...

Words cannot express how angry abd depressed I feel about the ISA and the unjustified detentions. I love Malaysia my country (although I am probably considered by some as a kind of pendatang asing, although my ancestors have been here since the time of the Dutch rule in Malacca). I hate what is happening to our country and the rakyat and I just cannot see any good in the Government of today at all.

sp lim said...

I look forward to the day where the Kamunting Detention Centre is turned into a Human Rights Abuse Museum similar to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Well, let's get the ISA repealed first.

Anonymous said...


very very well said.

this draconian law will not go away until and unless BN is kicked out. I am confident that PR will see to that once it comes to power. As you said, for this alone, the public must give their support to PR.

Anonymous said...

If Courts are not instrument of POWER, then it can has hope!
The basis point will still need to start from the Division of Parliament into at least Legislative, Executive and Monitoring Modes.
And, Lawyers and Bar Council dare to stand for Justice even if Courts went wrong!

When the Power had taken ISA to be the AXE, the Court are the executors in effect!

Too many broken pieces to put into shape, I suppose.
In practice, how many will stick to procedures, Rights & Justice?
Or, Victim has a chance of even voicing out?

Anonymous said...

I hv never bothered to read blogs before and blindly thought what was reported in the mainstream newspapers were the only truthful versions even during the reformasi era!!! I have only just started to do after being introduced to Malaysia Today in early 2008. OMG I was initially aghast at the language used to describe Mahathir in many comments of the blog sites because I have actually admired him...still do as a matter of fact. He's not a perfect human being of coz but he was a charismatic, considerably intelligient PM that one could listen to without feeling ashamed of how we could have voted in a stateman representing us in the international areana who couldnt even verbalize logical comments on TV??? This is digressing from your topic of coz. Anyway, I was as Mr Smith's said amongst many Malaysian guilty of shamelessly oblivious to the abuse of ISA as well as believing hook line and sinker many of the BN's propagandas all my life. Nowadays, I dont read my newspapers from front page to end without checking up what alternative news contents in the blogs like yours and others are saying and then I think about the issues after waying the facts presented. This has really opened my eyes!!! Thanks for bloggers like yourself, Rocky, RPK for keeping Malaysian informed....keep up the good work!!

Old Fart said...

As cruel as the ISA is, it still has one more service that it has to perform for the country and the people.

It is the most appropriate means of subduing the UMNO leaders and warlords when the time comes when UMNO falls.

I cannot imagine them or their families running to you for habeas corpus or whatever other applications.

Trouble for them will be all those lawyers with all those experience will be on the wrong side of the fence. I wonder how the UMNO lawyers will deal with it.

Anyway, I can at least for the moment salivate over this hoped for fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Bro MIS,

ISA have its advantages especially for those believe in Draconian Law to safeguard their (personal) interest BUT using the excuse of security (or SAKU-rity) threats.

Even jungle-minded people very hard to accept this Draconian's.


Anonymous said...

People may not commit a crime first hand, they may well instigate and fuel it with words, to a level so worse than plunging the whole country into chaos and violence.
A trial in court is a long drawn procedure, one can rarely wait for this with a numerous loopholes for escape.

Hitler used to be a smooth talker, a voracious speaker who moved the masses with his thundering speeches. He created enough chaos in the country and mired it in violence and confusion.
He was put on trials, sent to jails, even beaten up. But he always sneaked out through legal loopholes. He ultimately came to power by winning an election where he secured only 34% of the votes - being the largest vote share compared to many other smaller parties who were all in dissaray.
He took this oppurtunity to form a govt and so began his reign.
Once in power he changed everything - conquered half of europe.

ISA is a necessity to prevent such pandemonium that may arise.
Don't blame Mahathir - He did what he considered the most apt solution to deal. Mahathir was one the most intelligent and perhaps sly leader who kept his govt firm and a country in stability and prosperity.