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Commemorating the 20th anniversary of Operasi Lalang
Wednesday, 02 January 2008
A people's hearing publicly identifies those who were guilty of
transgressions of human rights and acquits those who had been detained.
Julian C H Lee has the story.
On 27 October 2007, some 200 people packed into a small hall at the Selangor
Chinese Assembly Hall to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Operasi Lalang.
Operasi Lalang is regarded by many in Malaysia as the worst and most
self-serving use by the Malaysian government of the Internal Security Act.
In late October 1987, the Barisan Nasional government, headed head by Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, directed police to detain 107 individuals across
Malaysia on the ostensible grounds that they were a threat to national
security by escalating ethnic tensions. These individuals were mainly
members of opposition political parties and non-partisan activists, but also
included a convert from Islam to Christianity. Commentators and scholars
widely regard Operasi Lalang as a naked demonstration of the self-serving
use of the state infrastructure by the Barisan Nasional and UMNO.
The official and ostensible purpose of Operasi Lalang was the containment of
ethnic tensions between the Chinese and Malay segments of the Malaysian
population. These tensions had arisen when the government tried to appoint
senior officials who were unqualified in Mandarin into Chinese-language
primary schools. Chinese language schools were a point of contention between
the Chinese community per se and the Malaysian government. The
Umno-dominated Barisan Nasional regarded Chinese language schools as harmful
to national unity on the grounds that the language of instruction was not
the official national language, Malay.
Rising tension,s which took the form of vigorous protests from the Malaysian
Chinese Association, the Democratic Action Party, Gerakan and Chinese
eductionists, as well as counter protests by divisions within Umno, were
eventually stamped out when the Mahathir administration ordered the
detention of 107 individuals under the ISA. These individuals - most of whom
had played no role in the Chinese school affair but were otherwise critical
of the government - had to endure abuses to both their liberty and their
person, including physical torture.
Commemorating Operasi Lalang
Twenty years to the day after Operasi Lalang began, no one responsible for
the abuses that occurred or the arrests that were made in bad faith has been
brought to account either legally or electorally. The commemoration was
organised by the Malaysian human rights group, Suaram, which had its
beginnings in the response of civil society and the friends and families of
the detained to Operasi Lalang.
This commemoration took the form of a trial or "people's hearing" at which
the accused was the ISA. Thus, this commemoration sought to ensure that
flagrant abuses of power during Operasi Lalang and the sufferings of those
involved were not forgotten. Furthermore, it sought to attribute guilt for
the wrongdoings to those that civil society regards as the real culprits,
not those who were officially vilified.
Because more people than expected attended the commemoration, proceedings
were delayed. When proceedings got underway, however, the emcee Zaitun
'Toni' Kasim, asked the audience to stand if there was a name attached to
the chair on which they sat: 107 stood up, and each of those standing
represented an Operasi Lalang detainee. Progressively, people took their
seats again when they saw the names on their seats displayed on the
projector as having been released within 60 days. By the end of this
exercise, some 44 people were left standing, the number of people who
received long-term detention orders, and some of these were detained for as
long as two years.
Testimonials of ex-detainees
Following this and the introductory address by Suaram executive director Yap
Swee Seng, three ex-detainees described their experiences during Operasi
Lalang. These were Khalid Abdul Samad, Mohd Yusof Husin and Kua Kia Soong.
This was followed by pre-recorded testimonials from other ex-detainees such
as Irene Xavier and Sim Boh Yu, as well as from family members of people who
Common to all these testimonials were descriptions of deprivations suffered
and psychological games played by officers. Detainees were interrogated
excessively and aggressively. Basics such as bedding and blankets were
withheld and for women, sanitary products were intentionally in inadequate
supply. Furthermore, basic life rhythms were interrupted by ongoing
interruptions to sleep and the perpetual illumination of the detainees'
Arguments from lawyers
Two lawyers who were active in assisting Operasi Lalang detainees - Sivarasa
Rasiah and Ngeow Yin Ngee - and one "amicus curiae" - Yeo Yang Poh, former
president of the Malaysian Bar - gave their perspectives on Operasi Lalang
and the ISA generally.
Sivarasa described a number of the judgments surrounding the use of the ISA
and pointed out that one judgement in the case of Theresa Lim Chin Chin v
Inspector General of Police, had an especially negative impact on
restraining executive abuses of power. In this case it was found that the
subjective satisfaction of the Home Minister that an individual was a threat
to national security was enough to make the detention legal. The courts,
therefore, did not need to objectively evaluate any evidence to decide
whether the detention had grounds or not.
Among Ngeow's comments was his observation of members of the government:
"There is something wrong in these people that they think they can get away
with these abuses of power." Operasi Lalang and the continued existence of
the ISA exemplify the larger unaccountability of those in government. In
this vein, Yeo noted that in addition to those physically detained under the
ISA, "democracy and liberty are also imprisoned".
When asked to decide the guilt or innocence of the ISA, the audience was
unanimous in finding the ISA guilty of grave injustices. Consequently, a
list of demands of the government was drawn up.
. Abolish the ISA
. Free all current ISA detainees or try them in court
. Compensate ISA detainees
. Close the Kamunting Detention Camp
. Issue an apology to detainees
. Free the media
. Establish a truth and reconciliation commission
These, it is worth noting, were demands, not calls for government action or
requests. What was evident at the commemoration was an abandonment of faith
in the structures of the Malaysian state which ought to have been
responsible for the administration of justice and the protection of the
citizenry from abuses of power. Instead, these structures were seen to
facilitate the opposite.
Twenty years after Operasi Lalang, this commemoration and people's hearing
publicly identified those who were guilty of transgressions of human
rights and acquitted those who had been officially blamed.
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Julian C. H. Lee is a lecturer in International Studies at Monash
University, Sunway (Kuala Lumpur). He is an anthropologist whose research
areas include Malaysian electoral politics as well as gender and sexuality.
Daripada Abu Umarah iaitu al-Bara' bin 'Azib radhiallahu anhuma, katanya: "Kita semua diperintah oleh Rasulullah s.a.w. untuk melakukan tujuh perkara, iaitu meninjau orang sakit, mengikuti janazah, menentasymitkan orang yang bersin, menolong orang yang lemah, membantu orang yang teraniaya, meratakan salam dan melaksanakan sumpah."
Ini adalah salah satu dari berbagai riwayat Imam Bukhari.
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