Dr M-led gov't owes us an apology, say ISA detainees
Amid the beating of the electoral war drum for the Kajang by-election, the debate on who was responsible for Operation Lalang 27 years ago is being raised again, with some pinning the blame on PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was then education minister.
However, some detainees of the 1987 Internal Security Act crackdown, which was launched by then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, described such discussions at this juncture as “meaningless” without a public apology from the government.
Recalling the incident, the detainees said that while the deployment of non-Mandarin speaking teachers in Chinese schools had sparked public anger, Ops Lalang was carried out at a time when Umno was deeply fraught with a bitter internal feud.
According to them, the mass arrest was ordered by Mahathir, who was also Umno president, to divert public attention and to consolidate his own political power.
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong (right), who was among the 108 detainees, described Ops Lalang as Mahathir's worst abuse of power in his 23-year administration.
In 1987, Mahathir faced the biggest threat to his rule after Umno's Team B led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who narrowly lost to Mahathir in the party polls, went to court to challenge the results.
“A court decision in Team B’s favour would have meant the end of Mahathir’s grasp on power,” Kua said in an email to Malaysiakinirecently.
“In the run-up to Ops Lalang and before the assault on the judiciary, resulting in the sacking of the lord president and several other Supreme Court judges, the ruling party had orchestrated a tense situation in the country by creating various 'sensitive' issues,” he explained.
These included the alleged conversion of Muslims to Christianity and even a threat to organise a 500,000-strong Umno rally in the capital to justify the unleashing of Ops Lalang to deal with the so-called “enemies” identified by the state.
Umno counter protest led by Najib
Another detainee, who requested anonymity, told Malaysiakini that the leaders who are currently raising the Ops Lalang issue are merely seeking to gain political mileage for the forthcoming Kajang by-election which will be contested by Anwar.
“Instead of talking about it endlessly, they should ask if the crackdown was right. Indeed, they (the government) owe us an apology,” he argued.
On the matter of the apology, Kua defended Anwar saying, “At least, now on the opposite side of the fence, he (Anwar) has regretted and apologised for his role in Ops Lalang.
"Have the former MCA, Gerakan and MIC ministers (when Ops Lalang was launched) done the same?”
In the massive crackdown, opposition leaders - and a handful of MCA as well as Umno politicians - were detained under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), while the publishing permits for The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan dailies were revoked.
Prior to the arrest, Najib Abdul Razak, who was then the Umno Youth chief, led a rally in Kampung Baru as a counter-protest to the demonstration held earlier by NGOs and the opposition parties to oppose the deployment of non-Mandarin speaking in Chinese school.
PKR Subang MP R Sivarasa (left), a lawyer who represented several Ops Lalang detainees, blamed Mahathir for conniving with Najib, who is now prime minister, to hold the mammoth rally that he claimed was aimed at stirring up racial sentiments.
“Being part of Umno (at that time), Anwar must bear part of the responsibility, but he has nothing to do with the final arrests,” Sivarasa sawhen contacted.
He added that then inspector-general of police Hanif Omar would not have acted without the green light from Mahathir, who was home minister.
Dr M's signature on detention order
Backing Sivarasa's claim, DAP's Kota Melaka MP Sim Tong Him, also an Ops Lalang victim, revealed that the arresting police officer showed him a detention order bearing Mahathir's signature.
Sim also poked fun at MCA, saying that by blaming Anwar for the ISA arrests, the party has unwittingly admitted its own involvement in Ops Lalang as it was part of the ruling government.
“I actually don't understand why MCA made such a statement. Do they want to be a laughing stock?” he quipped.
MCA chief Liow Tiong Lai was first to spark the debate last week when he urged Kajang voters, particularly the Chinese, not to trust Anwar and blamed the former deputy prime minister for the Ops Lalang crackdown.
Party veteran Yap Pian Hon (left), one of MCA leaders arrested in ISA dragnet, insisted that Anwar was the one and only culprit.
Yap, who was MCA Youth chief when he spent 50 days in the lock-up, argued that Ops Lalang would not have taken place had Anwar withdrawn the non-Mandarin speaking teachers policy at the time.
Interestingly, Yap said, the arrests were justifiable: “Whether you like it or not, you have to accept the fact that the situation (became) stable and bloodshed was avoided.”