The EO6: Six thoughts on the day after their release
I am happy. The EO6, six members of PSM, the Socialist Party of Malaysia, six people immorally detained by my government, have been released.
I am exhausted. I have thought deeply about why the EO6 were detained, why they might have been detained for much longer and why they have now been released.
I am relieved because I can take a rest from spending two hours a day attending candle-light vigils and an average of two hours a day writing about the EO6.
I am thoughtful because I want to review what I have learned in the last thirty days and build on it. Here are six key thoughts:
1. Salam Perjuangan. Salam, is from the Hebrew root Shalom, which means 'peace.' It's one of the Arabic words in the greeting Salamalaikom. Perjuangan means 'struggle.'
UMNO leaders use Perjuangan to 'remind' the majority Malays of the 'Malay struggle' for progress. It's an open secret that 'progress' is a euphemism for Ketuanan Melayu, Malay Superiority and 'takut Cina,' or 'be afraid of Chinese dominance.' (About 90 % of the civil service and the armed forces in Malaysia are ethnic Malays. The wealth gap between rich and poor Malays is enormous.)
PSM (Socialist Party of Malaysia) members say Salam Perjuangan when they meet and when they depart. The PSM use Salam Perjuangan to remind their members of the people's struggle for justice and equality.
2. Zalim. Zalim means 'cruel.' This was one of the words chanted at candle-light vigils. The chants were 'EO zalim' and 'Police zalim.'
I'm not normally a person who uses strong words. I'll admit to not chanting zalim on the first day. I needed to think about it. From the second day onwards, I too chanted zalim. I decided to do so after thinking it through.
The EO, Emergency Ordinance is cruel. It allows separation of loved ones from their families for days – with no end in sight – on mere 'suspicion,' devoid of substantial evidence. It's a tool of repression. If the EO is not cruel, what is?
Are the police cruel? Are all (Norwegian) Christians terrorists? Are All (Arab) Muslims terrorists? To say the police are cruel is a sweeping statement
Yet, the colour of the present police force is cruel. There have been too many unanswered, unpunished deaths in custody. There are too many videos of police wrong-doing. There are too many reports of wrong use of force.
A Royal Commission recommended the creation of an Independent Police Commission to allow citizens redress against wrongful treatment. The police resisted; the government, under former PM Abdullah Badawi, caved in.
3. Mansuh. Mansuh means destroy, but in context is better translated 'repeal.' Those at the candle-light vigils chanted 'Mansuh EO' and 'Mansuh ISA' (Internal Security Act).
Like zalim, mansuh is a strong word and because I want people to take me seriously, I only use a strong word if I support the full force of the word.
The question confronting me was “what do I think ought to be destroyed?” It was easier to rephrase the question as “what do I think out to be repealed?” But I could not evade the question of what should be destroyed.
I think anything which promotes or enables injustice should be destroyed; in this instance, the means of destruction is a repeal. I want some sections of the EO and the ISA repealed – and I want the government to declare there is no emergency in Malaysia: which is what we tell foreign diplomats and journalists.
4. Common goals. When we have common goals, we can work together despite our differences.
One of the EO6 detainees said a police interrogator pointed out that the PSM leadership is a group of Indians lead by a Malay – this is true. The detainees also spoke of recalling what Dr Nasir Hashim, the PSM president, had taught them about being detained. The recollections helped them be strong while being taken away, while being isolated and while being interrogated.
When we gathered together at the candle-light vigils, we had common goals.
We wanted haughty Malaysian leaders to stop acting like tyrants. We wanted the immoral detentions – of members of the opposition, by the ruling coalition – to end. We wanted politicians and policemen to respects human rights: freedom of assembly, right to legal representation, right to liberty, right to decent treatment, right to judicial review.
5. We were Chinese, Indians, Malays, East Malaysians. Young and old. Loud and reserved. Rich and poor. Titled and belittled. We stood together. We won.
Interrogation. Despite the Americans confession of guilt and their published examination of the use of 'unacceptable' interrogation methods at their facilities in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, I've thought little about 'right interrogation.'
Examples of 'wrong interrogation' abound in the case of the EO6. They were interrogated with the goal of proving they were leaders of BERSIH, the movement for free and fair elections, although the true leaders issued statutory declarations that the EO6 had nothing to do with organizing the march on 09 July. Since there was contrary evidence, the police 'interrogation' turned into 'badgering.'
The EO6 were isolated – under a law which allows for never-ending detention without trial – to 'psychologically disorient them' before they were questioned.
The EO6 were asked questions unrelated to the charge under which their liberty was denied.
We live in the shadow of Teoh Beng Hock, who died as a result of interrogation.
It seems our police force has learned nothing about interrogation. It seems the police are operating as if Teoh Beng Hock's life – and that of many others – was a pimple on the methods of interrogation, not a cancer.
We live in the shadow of terrorism. Are our police capable of conducting ethical interrogations which will result in useful information and, eventually, convictions?
I wonder if have interrogators who will be able to find evidence to convict Khir Toyo (Balinese mansion) and Ling Liong Sik (Port Klang Free Trade Zone)? We all know that in a civil society confessions obtained under duress cannot be admitted as evidence. So, do we have the capability to punish those who rob us?
6. People power. The detention of the EO6, and the spirit of the Malaysian Socialist Party – cultivated and strengthened over many years of hardship – has shown us we have power to bring forth change. Even Hisham can be shamed.
I confess that if Dr Jeyakumar had not been one of the EO6, we would not have risen as we did. Dr Jeyakumar is an example of faith – a long obedience in the same direction. He, and his wife Rani, set their lives to helping the poor; they are known for humility, fairness and compassion. Some of us disapprove of some rude foreign socialists like Hugo Chavez, but we will not hold them against Dr Kumar and the PSM. We know our own UMNO-BN 'champions of democracy.'
It's been a wild ride. It's time for a short rest. Then, it's time to learn from Saras, 58, activist for justice and equality, PSM deputy chairperson. She's not retired. She's hard at it. It's time to learn from Arutchelvan, the fearless man who kept us going and helped Hishammuddin see the light. It's time to learn from Nalini who kept us chanting. It's time to learn from Dr Nasir Hashim who was worthy of being detained under the ISA and strengthens others to stand up against injustice and inequality.