High time Dr M apologises for Ops Lalang

More than 10,000 Malaysians were detained under the ISA from 1960 to the 1980s.

Kua Kia Soong, Free Malaysia Today

Victor Chin was an artist with an acute social awareness, best known for his series of paintings of heritage houses. They not only capture the architecture and aesthetics of those buildings but also the characters and communities that lived in them.

Victor was an artist who was concerned about ordinary people and how they live their lives in those communities. His involvement with the people in Mantin and other communities demonstrate his deep feelings for people who face injustice and repression.

Victor’s foray into filmmaking was relatively recent and, like his other skills, he learned and honed the skill of filmmaking. After his film “Rakan Mantin”, he made another about the “5 Tigers”, five Labour Party women in Penang during the 1960s. His portrayal of their stoicism in the face of brutal oppression showed his stand on the people’s side of history.

Victor’s stand on the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) was always clear. He was staunchly anti-colonial. His own father was banished from the country during the Emergency. After all, the ISA was a British instrument of repression that was made into law in 1960 by the newly independent Malayan government when the Emergency was declared to be over.

My friendship with Victor started after my release from Kamunting in 1989. I heard about his poster contributions to the campaign against Operation Lalang. From the start of our friendship, he was instantly curious and concerned about what it was like to be detained without trial during the first 60 days, and the longer detention in the “rehabilitation” camp.

True to his word, he has made a film titled “Speak Out”, about three ISA detainees who were detained during three different decades of Malaysian history, to show people what detention without trial is really like. Unfortunately, this would be his last film. Victor left us too soon a few months ago.

There was no film like this when I was a student activist in the seventies, campaigning for the release of Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew, Said Zahari, Syed Husin Ali and other ISA detainees. We had no preparation for what to expect if we were to be arrested and detained under the ISA. My video on “Surviving detention without trial” can now be viewed on YouTube, courtesy of the SCAH Youth, an additional guide for detainees-to-be!

In truth, through the years of its use, the ISA has been abused so much that innocent Malaysians like me could be arrested and detained over some flimsy reason of “national security”. Like sedition, the government of the day can stretch its elastic meaning to include any innocuous utterance or activity.

From 1960 to the 1980s, more than 10,000 Malaysians had been arrested and detained under the ISA. To show how laughable the government’s definition of “national security” was, Noordin Mat Top, the Malaysian alleged to be one of the Bali bombers, was never detained under the ISA.

Any student of Malaysian history can see that the ISA was used to its most cynical extent during the sixties to incapacitate the Labour Party by arresting and detaining almost all their leaders. It was after their boycotting of the 1969 general election that the pretenders DAP and Gerakan seized the opportunity to be the “loyal opposition” to Barisan Nasional after 1969. Well, today, they are part of the unity government.

Detention without trial goes together with torture. Thus, in the 60s, we saw the memorandum by detainees at the Batu Gajah detention camp; during Operation Lalang in the 80s, in which allegations of torture can be read of in my book “445 Days under the ISA”; post-1987, when Sarawak assemblyman Abdul Rahman Hamzah alleged torture during his detention; and in 1998, when we had the graphic description of torture by Munawar Anees, then Anwar Ibrahim’s speech writer.

It is high time that Malaysians call for:

  • The end to detention without trial and arbitrary arrests which still exist in new forms – Sosma, Poca and Pota. There can be no excuse for not ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture if we claim to be a caring society that upholds human rights. There can be no more excuses for not implementing the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) when there are police personnel who torture detainees.
  • Dr Mahathir Mohamad to apologise for Operation Lalang. He cannot simply absolve himself of the responsibility when, as the home minister, he signed our two-year detention orders. Time is fast running out for him.
  • Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to consider reparations for the detention and torture of his former speech writer Munawar, who was a guest in our country at the time of his detention.
  • The prime minister, the former “Reformasi” champion, to rehabilitate our democratic institutions, especially our judiciary, ever since the rot set in during Mahathir’s term as prime minister.