The fight to free the PSM EO6, part 8

In June/July 2011, in anticipation of the Bersih 2 rally, the police under the direction of the UMNO-BN government detained 6 PSM leaders under the Emergency Ordinance (EO). For this 10-year-anniversary of this detention, Thinkleft has run a series of articles documenting the struggle to free the six from unlawful detention. This is the last of the series.

Click here to read part 1 of this series
Click here to read part 2 of this series
Click here to read part 3 of this series
Click here to read part 4 of this series
Click here to read part 5 of this series
Click here to read part 6 of this series
Click here to read part 7 of this series
Click here to read statements of support and solidarity for the EO6 from local and international organizations

Habeas Corpus, courts and the people

On the 22nd July 2011, the High court was to hear the EO6 Habeas Corpus case. Haji Sulaiman was the main counsel. PSM and other groups mobilized hundreds of people to the court. 200 t-shirts about the EO6 were sold out in a short time. Besides there was also huge demand for t-shirts and EO6 badges. We could not keep up with the demand.

Huge crowds waited – inside and outside the court. One lawyer told me – you have turned the court back into the reformasi times as when the court postponed the case to the 5th august- thunderous shouting took place outside the court calling for the EO6 to be released. BEBAS BEBAS – BEBAS TAHANAN was the cry that rocked the court building in Jalan Duta.

At 3 pm, another huge gathering was held at the Bukit Aman where 90 organisations signed a petition. Many opposition leaders attended the rally. The police were pushed back and could not do much. That same day- PSM issued a statement – WE HAVE MORE FAITH IN THE RAKYAT. Basically saying that it is only the people who are going to release the EO6 and not the court. The court decision continued to get attacked locally and internationally as it made a mockery of habeas corpus applications. What can one expect from a kangaroo court? The DPPs came to court without their files, since they were so sure the case would be postponed.

There were many many letters of support and articles in all languages in almost all the papers on the EO6. Prominent people wrote about Dr. Jeyakumar and other detainees. SUHAKAM, Bar Council and SUARAM kept the pressure up. The story of those detained made the six heroes. Banners and posters of them were distributed and it was even used when Najib visited London.

We also managed to get some articles written by Dr. Kumar in detention released. Also this put a very positive picture of those detained and clearly showed the 6 as the victim of a Government plot. PSM also gained lots of publicity and many people wanted to join the party.

As the 30-day deadline was nearing (on 31 July), PSM wanted to go on full gear. We moved the campaign to critical points like Maju Junction, Dataran Merdeka and Brickfileds. It seemed that the numbers in the vigil started to grow. Not only in KL but in other parts of the country. More people started to demand for the release including the MIC President. Credit should also be given to all Tamil dailies because they continued to give EO6 front page coverage including Samy Vellu’s own Tamil Nesan. For the Indian community, it was like Hindraf revisited since 5 out of the 6 were Indians. But this campaign went beyond race. The vigils were all very multi racial and so were the many articles and events participated. There was not a single slogan of racism raised during the campaign.

The campaign seemed to be really catching fire and the pressure for the government to release the 6 was high. It was now a question on how to release the 6 without losing face. From the Prime Minister, to the Home Minister to the IGP, they were very cautious when they released any statement. They knew that their statements against the EO6 would not be popular.

The police and the ruling party were fumbling at every turn. PSM lawyers also revealed that all the affidavits against PSM were on BERSIH and yet the BERSIH leaders are all free. Officers from the Home Minister also seemed concerned with the arrest and public perception. There were also discussions at the high levels of government department on how to retreat. People at the Home Ministry were not happy and the police seemed to be isolated further by the day.

On 27th – PSM exposed a video on the Udahlah campaign and the real reason for the PSM arrest where one officer clearly says that it is the because of BERSIH that they were arrested. This last week was also very tense as we did not get any family visits for more than 10 days. And we wanted to launch our next chapter of the campaign which would involve a hunger strike. And we needed to get indications from those detained. Our only problem is that if we start the hunger strike after the 31st July, then the Muslim fasting month would start and the hunger strike might not have much impact. But we needed to secure a family visit to check if our comrades were prepared to go on hunger strike. This would also be the first time a hunger strike is attempted during the first 60 days of detention.

On the 27th, we finally managed to get family visits and we got confirmation from Kumar that he was going on a hunger strike the next day -on the 28th. It was also the day that we launched a strong twitter bombardment campaign. Hundred of twitter messages flooded and went all over and created much havoc and noise in the social media.

Meanwhile the State was crumbling under such an offensive attack. We now seemed to get news that all would be released with conditions. Kumar’s hunger strike was tactically announced in Ipoh on the 28th by Rani, PSM central committee member as well as Kumar’s wife.

The pressure was mounting against the state. The vigil in brickfields was attended by a huge number of nuns and even priests. Brickfieds was filled with people. The police shouted for the crowd to disperse by the crowd did not move. The police warning did not seem to scare them. We got news that the release was imminent – but would it be without conditions?

On 29 July, another 14 other people joined the hunger strike in Sungai Siput. The EO6 campaign were moving to top gear as we came to the end of the 30-day deadline. A huge rally was planned on the Saturday on the 30th, where people would occupy Dataran by the night and the very next day march to Bukit Aman to demand for the release and launch a nationwide hunger strike there on Sunday – a day before Ramadan .

Under tremendous pressure, the police finally announced the release of the 6 without any conditions at 5pm. The police finally had to retreat and the Prime Minister thanked the police for releasing the EO6. PSM with the people’s backing won the battle. It was the first time perhaps a left political party survived a massive crackdown such as this. It was also the first time that their release was secured within the first 30days. This is a tremendous achievement.

All those released had no doubt and contributed their release to the will of the people. A victory celebration at Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (SCAH) was a fitting place since the management of SCAH was very supportive; during the entire campaign they gave us free access to their rooms without any charge. The Internationale was sung many times to greet the heroes. There were many other heroes whose names we did not know who came every night and supported the cause. This is their victory.

On the final analysis, a few factors contributed to the release of the EO6 which was dubbed as the fastest release of political detainees under emergency ordinance. Yet, the release might not have been possible if not for a number of incidents and conditions. The Bersih momentum contributed to huge public perception against the ruling party. The police miscalculated in underestimating PSM’s strength and its resilience in fighting back during crisis. The BN propaganda war of communism failed to create the expected fear that it had created previously. In fact , it was the first time that the left managed to beat the ruling party as far as the propaganda war was involved. Credit should also go to the many International groups as well as Socialist parties all over the world who did a persistent campaign calling for the release. Local civil society groups also played a prominent role. The PSM leadership tactics in taking an offensive position from the start and going on multi-level attack also helped. Finally the brave people locally and internationally who feared nothing and yet gave everything was the recipe for victory. The release of the EO6 was a victory of the people against a corrupt government clinging to power. It is a victory which gives confidence to the people that change would come and the people would drive those changes.

Note –

This article did not mention names of many people who played an important role for the release, like some of the alternative news journalists who covered the events, PSM members and branch leaders, members of the campaign team who worked day and night, family members of detainees who were a constant strength to us, the many who played many roles behind the scenes etc. This release is yours to cherish.

Hidup rakyat !

S. Arutchelvan
Deputy Chairperson
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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