Call on police to respect the emergency of a civil society and to stop harassing Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita

by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, November 3, 1995:

Call on police to respect the emergency of a civil society and to stop harassing Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita

All Malaysians must be concerned by the police harassment of Tenaganita director, Irene Fernandez because of Tenaganita memorandum on “Abuse, torture, maltreatment and deaths of migrant workers at immigration detention centres” in early August.

Yesterday, Irene announced that she has decided on lawyers advice to defy police orders to hand over documents relating to her organisation’s research into immigration detention centres and her courageous decision deserves full public sympathy and suppot.

The police had been subjecting Irene Fernandez to prolonged interrogation requiring her to provide names of detainees who had given information in confidence. This is most improper and unacceptable in a Malaysia which is trying to create a “civil society” – a theme which had repeatedly been highlighted by the deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Irene said that the police investigators had not focused on tenaganita’s allegations of deaths and maltreatment of migrant workers at the immigration detention centres but on the organisation’s structures, motives and linkages instead.

This is a most preserve and preposterous development. The subject of an inquiry should be into the detention conditions of the migrant workers in the immigration detention centres, and why there could be 16 deaths up till August, and not into Irene Fernandez and who were her informants.

The Police Investigations had clearly deviated from their central focus, and I call on the Police to stop harassing Irene Fernandez and to stop issuing orders to her to produce documents under Section 5(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The police must be sensitive to the Vision 2020 and the calls for Malaysian leaders, including the deputy Prime Minister, for a “civil society”, which must mean respect and tolerance for more independent voice, pressure groups, grass-roots organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs) in our nation.

The Government should also play its part in the creation of a “civil society”. It was revealed yesterday, for instance, that the Health Ministry was holding back almost RM1 million in grants allocated to NGOs involved in the battle against AIDS because they are registered as companies.

The Health Ministry is labouring under a wrong order of priorities in the battle against AIDS – when nothing should be allowed to stand in the way to combat AIDS, least of all whether a NGO fighting AIDS is registered under the Societies Act or Companies Act.

By doing so, the health Ministry is not taking the AIDS menace seriously, when there are 300 new HIV cases in Malaysia, or an average of 10 cases every day!