(Updated 5:35pm, 4 April 2009)
PUTRAJAYA, 4 April 2009: The government’s release of the 13 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees was done in the interests of the people and not to garner popularity, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said today.
He said giving priority to the interests of the people was the most important mission in the national administrative agenda and, as such, the decision was justified in that aspect.
Najib, in his maiden address over television last night as the new prime minister, had announced the immediate release of the ISA detainees.
“If we do not release detainees, they say the government is oppressive. But when we release them, they say we are being populist. I did that (released the detainees) in the interests of the people,” he told a news conference at Sri Satria, the official residence of the deputy prime minister, here.
Though welcoming the move to release some of the ISA detainees, several Pakatan Rakyat leaders had said the move was a populist one in view of the three impending by-elections on 7 April. They also said Najib’s move did not go far enough to demonstrate the new administration’s commitment to reform.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali, in a statement to The Nut Graph today, said the government’s move to release the detainees and to lift the suspension orders on Harakah and Suara Keadilan, was the result of pressure from the people.
“These moves will not be considered sincere unless Datuk Seri Najib follows it up with further efforts to strengthen democracy in the country. These include not detaining people or suspending publications without proper cause, the immediate and unconditional release of all ISA detainees, and the repeal of the ISA and the Printing and Publications Act,” Syed Husin said in the statement.
Mahathir in Umno
Earlier, Najib had accepted the Umno membership application forms from former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and their son, Datuk Mokhzani.
Mahathir, when asked of the release of the ISA detainees, said it was a wise move.
“I do not know if you can recall that the first thing I did after being appointed the prime minister was to release 21 ISA detainees. I feel that if it was good for me, surely it is good for Datuk Seri Najib,” he said.
Two of the 13 detainees are leaders of the outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), seven are members of the Darul Islam group, three are foreigners held for falsifying documents and one is a member of the Jemaah Islamiah. They are to be released tomorrow after completion of the documentation process.
Najib, responding to questions, said the new cabinet line-up would be announced soon, and added that a possible announcement on 8 April was merely speculation by the media.
Najib also said that he would meet with Mahathir from time to time to obtain his advice and views.
“Tun (Dr Mahathir) is always ready to give advice and views when called upon to do so,” he said. — Bernama