A Mischievous and Irresponsible Claim

By N Surendran, Keadilan VP

I refer to the statement by former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed that Malaysians should be granted human rights ” only as far as we are able to” and that the opposition’s struggle for human rights is for their own benefit and “excessive”. It is no surprise that Dr Mahathir has taken this irresponsible, mischievous and dishonest position.

During his harsh and intolerant 22 year long reign as the country’s Prime Minister, Mahathir subverted and undermined most of the rakyat’s basic rights. Key fundamental rights guaranteed to the rakyat under Part 2 of the Federal Constitution were rendered ineffective and meaningless under Mahathir’s rule, and remain so under current Prime Minister Najib. Detention without trial laws were used against the opposition, activists, social workers and even against opponents within the ruling UMNO itself. A prominent victim was former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked, beaten and detained under the ISA in September 1998, for having opposed Mahathir’s policies.

Cynically using the excuse of national security and race relations, Mahathir used an arsenal of oppressive laws to intimidate and imprison political opponents, and to strengthen his personal grip on the country. In fact, Mahathir should be put on trial for abusing state powers and undermining independent institutions such as the police, judiciary, civil service and election commission. His acts when in power were criminal in nature, and caused far-reaching damage to our institutions and structures of governance.  History will judge Mahathir harshly.
The objective of the long struggle for human rights by the political opposition and activists is to return to the Rakyat the fundamental rights once given to them in the Federal Constitution. How can it be ‘excessive’ to demand freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association or freedom from arbitrary detention?

These are among the basic freedoms that were stolen from the Rakyat by Mahathir and his various predecessors and successors. It is not “excessive rights like the West” that the rakyat ask for, but the basic rights provided for in the Malaysian Federal Constitution.

These fundamental freedoms are essential to preserve our dignity as human beings, and to enable us to question and keep the government in check. It is increasingly clear that PM Najib and UMNO are fighting a proxy war against the Rakyat’s struggle for human rights using irresponsible and intolerant organisations and individuals like Perkasa and Dr.Mahathir. This kind of transparent stratagem fools no one. We call upon Prime Minister Najib and his government to do the right thing: return to the Rakyat their stolen freedoms.