On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Punish not the messenger


Tan was released yesterday following a 24-hour detention, which saw her being picked up at her Bukit Mertajam home and told that she would be taken to Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur. She was informed of her release midway through the journey.

The arrest will also go down in Malaysian history as the most controversial, if not the most ridiculous.

Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar has since clarified that Tan’s detention order did not come from him but from the police. He also said Tan was taken into custody because her life was threatened and that the police wanted to get to the bottom of it.

Tan is not the first journalist to be arrested under the ISA; the late Tan Sri Samad Ismail is the most famous ISA detainee but he was arrested for alleged communist activities.

Years later, it was acknowledged that he was held on trumped-up charges between 1976 and 1981. Since then, no reporter has ever been arrested under the ISA, not even during Operasi Lallang in 1987.

Among older Malaysians, the perception is that the ISA is used against the communists and, in recent years, members of Islamic terror groups and those who made fake passports and identity cards.

Defiant politician

Malaysia Today website editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin is not regarded as a journalist in the true sense – he is more of a writer and, certainly, a political player. As a critical writer, he makes no bones of his plans to bring down the Government and openly speaks at ceramahs for the Opposition.

He is facing various charges, including criminal defamation, and the latest ISA arrest is RPK’s second.

But the same cannot be said about Tan, who has worked as a reporter for the past nine years since graduating from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Her crime, if there is one, was to report the racist remarks made by Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail, who has refused to apologise for saying that the Chinese are “squatters” in this country.

Despite being suspended from Umno for three years he has remained defiant, believing he has become a hero who dared to champion the cause of his race.

To many Malaysians, his punishment is merely a slap on the wrist, as they feel he should have been be charged under the Sedition Act.

The action should have ended the controversy that strained race relations and the ties among Barisan Nasional component parties but the arrest of Tan has unwittingly rekindled the issue.

There is a sense of injustice and hurt among people that the perpetrator has been let off scot-free while the messenger has been penalised. It’s bad enough that her newspaper has been issued a show-cause letter but she also ended up being detained under the ISA, albeit briefly.

The sledgehammer treatment must have come as a shock for her, as it did to the press fraternity and rational-thinking Malaysians.

Tan may have been released but the damage is already done. To put it bluntly, the arrest was outrageous and went against the grain of natural justice.

The Barisan Nasional government, which is trying to revive its popularity after the March 8 elections, has lost more goodwill and, more importantly, votes.

In the eyes of the world, we are becoming more like a political basket case each day as old politicians attempt to bring back their outdated tricks, believing that the attempts to bring reforms and broaden democratic space can end.

A new world

They want to see the press shackled, preferring to read only about themselves, forgetting that the world has changed. A New Malaysia has emerged, don’t they realise this?

You can keep the bad press out of the printed media but not on the Internet, and a credible media is certainly necessary in a democracy.

As political undercurrents become stronger in Umno with attempts to get the Prime Minister to quit before the two-year period becoming more open, the innocents are in danger of finding themselves caught in the crossfire.

Leave the journalists, who are merely doing their work, out of politics. If Tan and Sin Chew Daily have misreported Ahmad’s remarks, he should have demanded a correction the next day instead of letting it drag on for 10 days.

It was irresponsible on his part to let the controversy continue. Worse still, he made more racist remarks, which are sufficient to get him charged under the Sedition Act or even to be detained under the ISA.

But the ISA is a draconian and archaic law. It shouldn’t be used even against Ahmad, as this deprives him of the right to defend himself in open courts.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to defame others or to create chaos but, certainly, we can all tell when there is a miscarriage of justice.