28 October, 2007

20th anniversary of Ops Lalang

October 27th marks the 20th anniversary of Ops Lalang.

Ops lalang ( Weeding operation) was carried out on October 27, 1987 by the Malaysian police to crack down on opposition leaders and social activists. The operation saw the infamous arrest of 106 persons under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the revoking of the publishing licenses of two dailies, The Star and the Sin Chew Jit Poh and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan.

According to the White Paper explaining the arrests, various groups who had played up "sensitive issues" and thus created "racial tension" in the country had exploited the government's liberal and tolerant attitude. This racial tension made the arrests necessary and further, forced the government to act "swiftly and firmly" to contain the situation.

The sensitive issues were brought on by what appeared innocuously enough as Education Ministry appointments of some 100 senior assistants and principals to vernacular Chinese schools. This provoked a storm of protest when it was learnt that those appointed were not Chinese (Mandarin)-educated.

Operation Lalang resulted in the arrest of 106 people under the Internal Security Act. Among the more prominent detainees were opposition leader and DAP Secretary-General Lim Kit Siang, ALIRAN President Chandra Muzaffar, DAP Deputy Chairman Karpal Singh, MCA Vice President and Perak Chief Chan Kit Chee, PAS Youth Chief Halim Arshat, UMNO MP for Pasir Mas Ibrahim Ali, and UMNO Youth Education Chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim. Other prominent non-political detainees included Dong Jiao Zhong (Chinese Education Associations) Chairman Lim Fong Seng, Publicity Chief of the Civil Rights Committee Kua Kia Soong, and WAO member Irene Xavier.

Although most of the detainees were released either conditionally or unconditionally, 40 were issued detention order of two years. Included were Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh plus five other party colleagues, a number of PAS members and many social activists. A categorization of the initially named detainees, numbering 97, gives the following breakdown:

  • political parties: 37;
  • social movements 23;
  • individuals: 37.

The situation came to a head and then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took advantage to round up political nemeses under the Internal Security Act in the eponymous operation.

Mahathir’s administration was then criticised for its poor human rights record, with the tightening and implementation of the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act and of the Internal Security Act (ISA).

While he received the backing of most Malaysians when he clipped the powers of royalty, the assault on the judiciary with the sacking of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas in 1988 remains one of – if not the darkest – episodes of his administration.

However, Mahathir’s supporters and the man himself saw these as necessary evils.

“For a country to progress, drastic measures need to be taken so that these efforts are not derailed,” he once said.

Twenty years after Ops Lalang, the dust has yet to settle for detainees who are still clamoring for the draconian ISA to be buried, as Malaysiakini put it.

Age columnist Michael Backman’s just written in his column his view of Malaysian Premier Abdullah Badawi, here is yet another foreingner's view, and this time touching Dr Mahathir :

(Read American Chronicle "Dr Mahathir's Blood" by Abbas Zaidi here.)


"During his 22-year rule as Malaysia’s prime minister Dr. Mahatir found himself at the centre of so many controversies that it is not possible to touch upon even a fraction of them in just one article.

Some of the controversies that earned him international attention were his claim that the Jews get others to fight and die for them, his denunciation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, his sacking of three deputy prime ministers that he had himself chosen to succeed him, and his dismissal of the Malaysian Supreme Court judges.

Hence when in October 2003 Dr. Mahatir stepped down of his own will, many Malaysians thought that the change of guard would not alter much on their country’s political scene. Abdullah Badawi, the new prime minister, had after all been a Mahatir protégé. Abdullah did not make any changes in the cabinet and political hierarchy that he inherited from Dr. Mahatir."



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