by Kasthuri Patto
Many would remember the headlines of The Star dated October 28 1987 which screamed out “DETAINED. 19 PICKED UP IN SWOOP. OPERATION LALLANG ISA ARRESTS”. On the front page appeared pictures of 15 freedom fighters and activists, victims, who had been detained under various charges, all concocted and falsified by the then Home Minister and the government for holding views opposing to those in power.
The ‘Operasi Lalang’ mass arrests were ‘successfully’ carried out on 27 October 1987, 26 years ago, and will always be remembered as “Black October” in Malaysian politics as quoted by DAP Party-Advisor Chen Man Hin. An official tally of 106 detentions under the horrific Internal Security Act 1960 were made, from political parties, parliamentarians, civil rights leaders, educationists, lecturers, church workers, Islamic preachers, engineers, researchers, lawyers, trade unionists, and NGO activists, but the total number is said to be higher. Their charges? A dead beat tune of “being a threat to national security”
Those who were detained were never brought to court and tried for a worn out charge of being “a threat to national security”, something that would not have stood the acid test of a judiciary system in a court of law. It was absolutely dreadful that voicing out legitimate concerns and rights of every Malaysian regardless of race, religion or creed can be deciphered as inciting, provoking and even to some extent rabble-rousing racial tension and anxiety by the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, an indictment that all the accused shared.
In the 1986 General Elections, UMNO had gotten 1.5 million votes whereas DAP garnered 1 million votes. In other words, one million voters supported what DAP was fighting for – a Malaysian Malaysia where every Malaysian must treated equally and judged not by his race, religion, or creed but by his character. In the Johore Bahru by-election on 25 August 1988, an enormous number of voters rejected the policies of Dr Mahathir, particularly on the mass detention without trial under “Operasi Lalang”, demanding that the ISA detainees particularly those who will be serving the two-year detention orders, including DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh, P. Patto, Lim Guan Eng, V. David, Lau Dak Kee, Chian Heng Kai, Chan Kok Kit and Tan Seng Giaw, PAS leaders such as Mohd Sabu, Khalid Samad, Suhaimi Said, Mahfuz Omar and others and also civil rights leaders be released immediately. That demand of course, fell on deaf ears.
This treacherous ‘survival of the fittest’, had driven the then government to exert its authoritarian and absolute power to grossly abuse an act that was never enacted to deal with legitimate opposition and critics of the government. Because of that, many detainees had encountered the deaths and the loss of loved ones in their families as well the births and new additions to their families while serving time under the ISA. These political detainees were subject to many kinds of interrogation and accusation, but the worst of all, were the charges hurled at them of being unpatriotic and inflaming racial sentiments making them all victims of political persecution when it was the government who embarked on chauvinistic, utterances in instigating and stoking racial tension amongst the ethnicities in the country.
My father, the late P. Patto also served 18 months under this draconian law in the infamous Kem Tahanan Perlindungan Kamunting, Taiping where he also graduated with the rest of his peers and comrades. The despicable charges launched against him and other ISA detainees seem to be not far off from each other. This act of demonization of the ISA detainees could not break the tenacity and the steadfast determination of my late father and his comrades in upholding the tenets of the party, the struggle for a free, democratic Malaysian Malaysia based on the principles of human rights, equality, social and economic justice founded on the institution of parliamentary democracy.
Even if hell was going to freeze over, giving up was never an option, and they were not going down without a fight. And what a great fight they put up.
Through steady, consistent, political and civil pressure, the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, self-declared Bapa Transformasi, had made a much anticipated announcement on the eve of Malaysia Day 15 September 2011 that the wretched draconian ISA will finally be repealed. This move was accepted in good faith and was supposed to propel the PM as a visionary with many, many transformation programmes up his sleeve.
Two years down a rocky road, the cries of the PM has turned out to be nothing more than lip-service aimed at securing support and garnering votes for his own survival in UMNO and grasping on to the helm of leading this sovereign nation. Unpardonably he has been tight-lipped in the deafening silence about the recent Prevention of Crime Act, a new bill masqueraded under the disguise of the ISA. It is sacrosanct, untouchable, with no judicial review, and continues the cursed legacy of detention without trial much to the disgust of parliamentarians, lawyers, human rights activists and peace-loving Malaysians alike.
The greatest irony here in Malaysia is that, while the Prime Minister condemns acts of violation of international laws in Syria and Egypt according to the United Nations charter, heavy handed decisions to implement a barbaric, oppressive law continues to triumph curtailing human rights and marring a just judiciary process in his own backyard. And he seems to be unaware and unaffected by it.
The PM must break his silence and make his stand on his flip-flop, U-turn ‘transformations’ with regards to political reform in Malaysia. A first step towards a matured democratic, free, just and fair Malaysia.
For all the ISA detainees who are no more with us today ~ P. Patto, V. David, Chian Heng Kai, Chan Kok Kit and other fallen soldiers, we will continue your struggle and fight for a just, righteous, free and democratic nation. For a Malaysian Malaysia.