No letting up: Some 3,000 Makkal Sakthi and Hindraf supporters call for release of ISA detainees
For one moment, it looked as if the general election campaign was not yet over. The orange shirts were back in numbers. A similar crowd had packed the Penang Chinese Town Hall in the run-up to the general election.
Makkal Sakthi is still alive and kicking – and the newfound sense of solidarity has not abated one bit.
But how was Hindraf, the organiser, able to get a permit so easily for this gathering? Well, I suppose it helps if your star speaker is the Penang Chief Minister! Not that permits should be required for such gatherings. A couple of uniformed cops sat in the audience, a couple more outside the hall.
Syed Ibrahim, the coordinator of the Abolish ISA Movement (GMI), gave a run-down on why the ISA had to be abolished. Also on stage was human rights lawyer Latheefa Koya. It has been a long time since I had seen such a huge crowd enthusiastically calling for the release of ISA detainees. In between, cries of Makkal Sakthi! and Valga! (Long live people power!) pierced the air.
Grand reception: ISA detainees’ family members enter the hall to a rousing welcome
How times have changed. If we want to look at it from a racial point of view, you had a Malay activist addressing a largely Indian crowd at the Chinese Town Hall!
The fear is gone: Young girls sign a petition calling for the release of ISA detainees as Fadiah from the GMI/Bar Council Human Rights Sub-committee beams
I don’t think I have seen so many people queuing up to sign petitions calling for the release of ISA detainees. (Some of these detainees have been held for more than six years!) Where previously people would have been afraid or reluctant to sign such petitions, tonight there was no such fear. People were distributing all sorts of anti-ISA literature. Volunteers collected donations for the ISA detainees’ families. Amazing! Surely, it can’t be too long before the ISA is totally abolished.
Crowd puller: Guan Eng is mobbed outside the hall by Makkal Sakthi and Hindraf supporters after giving the five state governments’ backing for the release of ISA detainees
It was an especially meaningful occasion for Guan Eng. Tonight was exactly 19 years to the day since he was released from ISA detention in 1989.
Guan Eng delighted the audience in the packed hall when he told them, “You are not alone in your call for the release of ISA detainees. You have five state governments backing this call and I will take this message to Parliament!” he said to loud applause. He told the crowd that the huge swing in their votes had made a big difference in the general election this time.
The entire gathering rose to their feet to cheer when a petition calling for the release of the ISA detainees was later handed over to the Chief Minister.
Later, after the event, I ran into a few pals, J, M and S, at a hawker centre. Politics was the hot topic. J wanted to take a bet (beers and kacang!) that Anwar would be Prime Minister by 1 Sept while S and M looked sceptical.
All three of them wanted the ISA abolished. But M and S said they would first like Mahathir to experience what it felt like to be unjustly detained in Kamunting and cut off from loved ones. “Just for six months and then we can abolish the ISA!” said S.
I looked at S. He was serious.
J and I, however, felt that this would be wrong. No one deserves to be detained without trial, not even Mahathir or whoever else has used this harsh and evil law. Everyone has the right to a fair trial.