The six-month roadshow will be launched in the capital Kuala Lumpur on 11 December by Anwar and scores of other former detainees under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Abolish ISA Movement announced.
“Two factors will jumpstart our campaign, namely the release of Anwar Ibrahim and Malaysia‘s Human Rights Commission’s recommendation in 2003 to abolish the ISA,” former detainee Saari Sungib said.
“We must make full use of Anwar’s release in our campaign to defend human rights in this country,” he added.
Anwar, who was released in September after six years in jail, said in a recent interview the government should charge or release all detainees held under the ISA, including more than 80 alleged suspects.
Anwar said he had no sympathy for suspects if there was evidence against them but added: “We should not allow this terrorism bogey to be used as a pretext by authoritarian regimes to suppress or oppress them.
“Some have been detained for almost four years. They have to be dealt with according to the law, not just because they are suspects and we leave them rotting there for years,” he said.
Anwar himself was detained twice under the ISA, first in his student days and again in September 1998 shortly after he was sacked from the government by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
He served six years in jail on a corruption charge, which he says was trumped up to end his political career, before being freed when the country’s highest court overturned the decision.
Critics say the law is being used
“We are trying to give room for ex-detainees to share what they have undergone and for members of the public to understand what it means to be detained under the ISA, what happens to the families, the children, their welfare, and their professions,” said Saari.
About 300 former detainees are expected to attend the launch of the campaign, which will include a play entitled I was a Victim of the ISA, he said.
Introduced by British
The ISA was first enacted by British colonialists saying that it was aimed at fighting a communist insurgency in the 1950s.
Critics charge that it has been kept on the books to enable the government to stifle legitimate opposition.
Several current detainees are members of the opposition Islamic Party (PAS).
The government says the act, which allows for two-year detention orders which can be renewed indefinitely, is necessary to prevent terrorism.
In the past, Malaysia regularly came under fire from Western governments over detention without trial, but criticism has been muted since the September 11 attacks in the US that led some countries to impose similar laws.