Governments around the word have used the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 as a pretext to introduce a raft of anti-democratic laws giving themselves sweeping new powers. But there is nothing new in this tactic which is a tested method for curtailing working class dissent.
In 1960 the Malaysian government introduced the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows it to imprison people without trial. Since its introduction, more than ten thousand Malaysians from all walks of life have been detained — including students, academics, feminists, religious leaders, environmentalists, human rights activists, unionists, workers from NGOs and opposition party members.
Under the ISA, anyone can be arrested and detained for an indefinite period without trial — being kept in solitary confinement for the first 60 days. The Minister of Home Affairs has the absolute power to imprison people at will. Once locked up, people are often tortured in order to extract “confessions.”
Growing resistance. For years, attempts to build mass opposition to the ISA have been crushed by the use of the ISA itself. But on the 40th anniversary of the Act, 70 organisations signed a Memorandum Against the ISA and formed the Abolish the ISA Movement. The movement is calling for the repeal of the ISA and all others laws which provide for detention without trial, release of all detainees held under the ISA, the establishment of an independent inquiry to investigate those tortured and abused under the ISA and compensation for victims and their families.
The Abolish the ISA Movement has successfully generated solidarity actions and campaigns in many parts of the world, especially in other parts of Asia.
Turning up the international heat. Anger at the arrest of internationally prominent activist, Tian Chua, and nine other pro-reform activists in April 2001 gave a boost to the broader campaign against the ISA. They are currently being held without trial in Kamunting Detention Centre on two-year detention orders by the Home Minister.
Tian and his fellow activists were arrested on 10 April, because the multi-racial movement demanding democracy and reform was strengthening. The government claims that Tian was part of an armed and violent plot to overthrow it, but under the ISA no evidence is required. Tian reports that during his interrogation, all questions focused on his political activities.
Tian has established political networks in several countries. He studied in Sydney during the 1980s and was active in the Network of Overseas Students Collectives and many solidarity campaigns. He later studied and worked in Hong Kong and the Netherlands. In 1996, Tian returned to Malaysia to head the Labour Resource Centre and play a key role in leading many grassroots democracy demonstrations. He became the Vice-President of the National Justice Party, formed in 1999 to campaign for workers’ rights, democracy and an end to corrupt government. This party works closely with other opposition parties.
In a letter from Kamunting Detention Centre, appealing to the international trade union movement for support, Tian outlines the current situation for workers in Malaysia:
“The 20 years of Dr Mahathir’s autocratic rule has seen a continuous decline of civil rights and democracy. Despite two decades of rapid industrial growth, the workers remain the most deprived sector of society. Malaysia has been one of the countries most adamant in suppressing workers’ organising. Owing to the multitude of anti-union legislation, presently Malaysia only achieves a 10% unionisation rate.
“The recent Asian financial crisis prompted Dr Mahathir to further fasten his grip. The economic downturn has resulted in large- scale layoffs and reduction in income among the workers. The masses were also angered by the extensive practices of corruption, cronyism and nepotism. Big cronies’ corporations have been bailed out by using the Employers’ Provident Fund, while workers have been retrenched without a safety net.
“Since the crisis, the workers have turned to the streets to call for reforms and the resignation of Mahathir. They were also increasingly attracted to the sacked populist Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a vocal critic of Mahathir’s corruption. Fearing the rising momentum of mass mobilisation, Mahathir has resorted to police crackdowns. He has imposed total control over the judiciary system and all state institutions in order to silence dissenting voices.”
Don’t let them be silenced. Support is growing in the trade union movement for the release of Tian Chua and his comrades and for the abolition of the ISA. Protests were held in many cities around the world on 10 April 2002, in solidarity with the start of a hunger strike by the detainees and to mark the first anniversary of the arrests and demand their release.
The hunger strike ended 12 days later. In a statement, the detainees said that news of their hunger strike had spread throughout the world. “There were demonstrations in various capitals; protests were raised over their detention at the United Nations Human Rights Commission and in the City Council Building of Silkebourg, Denmark. A Malaysian flag was raised in the presence of the Mayor, to commemorate the detention of the six men.”
Add your voice. Raise this campaign in your union or community group.
Send a strongly worded protest to Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, Ara 13, Blok D1, Parcel D, Pusat Pentadbiran Karajaan, Persekutuan 65202 Putrajaya, Malaysia.
Fax: 60 3 8886 8014, E-mail: email@example.com
Send a personal message of solidarity to Tian Chua (ATP: 2505) at Kamunting Detention Camp, 34009 Taiping, Perak, Malaysia
In the words of Tian Chua: “Many dictatorial regimes around the globe have exploited the September 11 terrorist attacks to legitimate repression. Democratic movements everywhere are facing an immensely testing challenge in their struggle. The global working class movement has an even bigger responsibility to safeguard against further erosion of democratic rights. I am confident that trade unions all over the world will firmly adhere to the spirit of internationalism and continue to strive for our common vision of solidarity, democracy and human rights!”
- Throw out the Howard Government’s anti-terror laws!
- Abolish the ISA!
- Free Tian Chua and all Malaysian political prisoners!