Former Ops Lalang detainees happy that ISA has been repealed

Former detainee: Muzaffar Former detainee: Muzaffar

(The Star) – Former Ops Lalang detainees are glad the Internal Security Act (ISA) will no longer be used to detain people without trial.

In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the crackdown yesterday, ex-detainees said arrests under the ISA were no longer relevant with current times.

International Movement for Just World (JUST) president Dr Chandra Muzaffar said the abolition of the ISA was a milestone for Malaysians who had struggled to protect and enhance human dignity.

He praised the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act for having a “remarkable” feature which stripped authorities of absolute power over security offences.

Dr Chandra, who was Aliran president then and was detained for 52 days, said similar swoops should not be allowed to happen again.

Former detainee: Kerk Former detainee: Kerk

“I don’t think we should resort to mass arrests to defuse tension.

“There are other ways to find out the cause of problems,” he said.

On Oct 27, 1987, 106 Opposition and Barisan Nasional politicians, academics and social activists were detained under the ISA.

The licences of three newspapers The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan (which has ceased publication) were also withdrawn.

The Star only resumed publication in March the following year.

Most of those detained were released within 60 days, but 40, including veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang and his son Guan Eng, several PAS leaders and activists were held for two years.

Former detainee: Karpal Former detainee: Karpal

In September last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak rescinded the Emergency ordinances, repealed the Restricted Residence and Banishment Acts and instituted new laws, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) and National Harmony Acts to replace the Internal Security and Sedition Acts respectively.

Today, newspapers and other publications are no longer required to renew their printing press licences and publication permits annually, in line with the amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

Former DAP secretary-general Kerk Kim Hock said such mass arrests should not be allowed to happen again.

“The history of ISA is a record of misuse.

“Ops Lalang marked a dark chapter in the nation’s history. No such crackdown must ever happen again,” he stressed.

Kerk was only 31 when he was held for 60 days under ISA.

Former detainee: Wee Former detainee: Wee

He was not shocked over his detention although it came a year after he was elected as Durian Daun assemblyman.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh, who was 47 and Jelutong MP when he was arrested, said he has always been against laws that allow detention without trial.

MCA treasurer Tan Sri Tan Chai Ho, who was the party’s Federal Territory Youth vice-chief when he was detained for 57 days, believed such crackdowns would not happen again as society was now more liberal, while Wangsa Maju MP Wee Choo Keong, who was also detained, said the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act was good to nip racial tensions in the bud.

“We cannot afford any tension that can lead the country into chaos.

Former detainee: Tan Former detainee: Tan

“I believe no Malaysian wants to see a repeat of May 13,” he said.

The Star group chief editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai said he was glad the ISA was repealed.

“What the Prime Minister has done is to remove many of these laws which gave him plenty of power.

“We must recognise this point,” he said.

Wong, who was then a reporter in Penang, recalled how staff had to go through Christmas and Chinese New Year without their salaries when The Star was suspended.

He was also glad there was no longer a need to renew the printing permit annually but stressed that it was not enough.

Former detainee: Meenakshi Former detainee: Meenakshi

“The printing permit must go. The sooner it goes, the better it is for press freedom,” he said, adding that he has been consistent in his call to repeal the requirement.

He also recalled that a Special Branch officer had asked to meet him on the morning of the suspension.

“The air was tense and the press was worried that reporters would be rounded up too.

“I remember talking to people like Dr Chandra and (CAP legal adviser) Meenakshi Raman who were arrested the very next minute!

“I don’t think journalists should go through this again.

“There must be no more Ops Lalang,” he said.