Thursday, August 14, 2008

Two condemn calls to use ISA, Sedition Act

PETALING JAYA: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) have condemned calls to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Sedition Act against the Bar Council for organising the “Conversion to Islam” forum last Saturday. The forum was aborted shortly after it started because of pressure from a group of about 500 protesters.

Wami chairman Wong Chin Huat said CIJ and Wami are dismayed by the response of the government and leading political parties for not only taking no part in assuaging the confl agration of their constituencies, but actually allowing key leaders to infl ame the anger of the protesters by calling for such draconian sanctions.

On Monday, Utusan Malaysia quoted Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam as calling for Bar members to be detained under the ISA, which allows for indefinite detention without trial, while PAS Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub wanted the SeditionAct invoked on the organisers of the forum.

Members from both rival political parties were involved in the protest against the forum, which was held to discuss legal issues arising from a person’s conversion to Islam. “CIJ and Wami are deeply concerned by these calls, which we see as refl ective of an authoritarian administration that represses the voices and grievances of minority groups,” Wong added ina statement.

“We are also alarmed that PAS has indicated a similar authoritarian streak, despite its promise of a more civil governance which garnered the party much support in the March 8 general election. “We call upon PAS, which has always opposed ISA, to reiterate its commitment to democracy, human rights and open governance in its Muktamar this weekend.

“The calls for the use of the ISA and Sedition Act to clamp down open discussion on the constitution, family law and religious administration refl ect the desire to perpetuate communalism.” Wong said the prohibition of and obstruction to Malaysians discussing issues of grave concern in a civil manner has prevented the nation from maturing politically as a people and that has made its independence hollow.

“CIJ and Wami call on the Barisan Nasional and PAS leaders to retract their extreme calls for the use of the ISA and Sedition Act. Both laws should be done away with, for they are a deterrent to freedom of expression and are open to abuse,” he said

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