On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

A step closer to ISA?

THE Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, is unpalatable to most Malaysians. 

A British legacy, it is regarded by many as draconian and to be used only as the last resort when the country’s security is threatened. 

Over the last few days, the chorus for the use of the ISA against the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) has become louder. 

Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein Onn – two senior Umno leaders – want the ISA invoked while MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said he would not interfere if the ISA were used. 

The pressure seems to have been stepped up and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must surely be aware of the feeling on the ground. 

Any decision to use the ISA would not make the leadership popular, particularly in the eyes of the world, but for many Malaysians, this could well be the only solution to keep the peace and stability. 

The massive turnout at the Hindraf gathering outside the British High Commission has made a point – there are many poor Indians who feel they have been left out of the country’s development. It should just end there. 

But the campaign has taken a new dimension with allegations of ethnic cleansing, murder of Indians, body snatching of converts and daily demolition of temples by what Hindraf has termed as Islamic terrorists. 

Whatever good the Hindraf lawyers had in mind for their community has now taken a terrible twist. Much goodwill has been lost. 

Even opposition leaders such as DAP’s Karpal Singh and PAS’ Datuk Seri Hadi Awang have found these allegations baseless, if not offensive. 

The Sultan of Selangor, who is regarded as a populist royalty, said he was upset and angry at the protest, which turned into a riot. 

To carry out an international campaign with these allegations is unlikely to help the community. Yes, the Indian poor, as with the poor of all races, have a case and the Government must sit up and listen hard. 

Yes, they complained that their leaders have not done enough. Much needs to be done to help the under-privileged, regardless of their race. No sane person would quarrel over that. 

But the campaign has gone overboard and terribly wrong. There are some who want to counter-demonstrate and retaliate in bigger numbers – but what is the point and its effect on the nation? 

Protesters who talk in numbers sometimes forget that others too can match them. 

Hindraf demonstrators have been arrested and charged in court. As much as we sympathise with them, that is the price they must pay – they were warned many times by the police to stay away from such protests. By defiantly ignoring this principle of law, they cannot argue otherwise now, harsh as it may seem. 

The purpose of the Hindraf gathering was to hand over a memorandum but from what the press is aware, it has not been done so far. Not even a faxed copy to the British High Commission. 

Yesterday, about 100-odd people, including lawyers, some linked to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and activists, went ahead with a protest march although the Bar Council had called it off. As lawyers, they should know the law better, even if they disagreed with it and taking to the streets is something new to Malaysian politics. 

Tomorrow, the PKR-backed Bersih intends to gather outside Parliament House for another protest. 

These series of protests have put the leadership under test, if not strain, including within their party and supporters. 

No one should be surprised if the ISA is used against those who threaten racial harmony, as enough warnings have been given.