29 October, 2007

SUARAM on the 20th Anniversary of Operation Lalang

Malaysia unveiled plans on Today to develop an international Internet exchange in the country's east, as part of a $34 billion state-led drive to develop the area.

"We will set up an international digital business exchange in Terengganu (state) that will emerge as the most important Internet exchange in this region," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in launching the development programme.

Twenty years ago, the Mahathir Adiministration unleashed "Operation Lalang" by using the Internal Security Act to arrest and detain without trial more than 107 Malaysians from a wide spectrum of our society. They included members of parliament, unionists, educationists, religious group members, social activists and academics.

In the whole dastardly career of the ISA since 1960, Operation Lalang was the last straw for Malaysian civil society which rose in unprecedented unison to campaign against this insidious suppression apparatus of the ruling coalition. SUARAM was subsequently formed in order to defend and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

Firstly, civil society could see that the so-called "racial tension" in October 1987 had been orchestrated by the ruling coalition to justify the crackdown.

The government started the controversy by sending unqualified school administrators to the Chinese schools, while the police allowed UMNO to organize a racist and seditious rally in Kuala Lumpur . This has become the method used by the ruling party to divert the peoples' attention whenever it faces a crisis.

The crisis in 1987 was again the result of a power struggle within UMNO as was seen in 1969 and 1974 and latterly in 1998. As the Tunku, our first prime minister put it:

"UMNO was facing a break-up. The Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's hold on the party appeared critical when election rigging was alleged to have given him a very narrow victory against Tengku Razaleigh. The case alleging irregularities brought by UMNO members was pending in court. If the judgement went against him he would have no choice but to step down. So he had to find a way out of his predicament. A national crisis had to be created to bring UMNO together as a united force to fight a common enemy – and the imaginary enemy in this case was the Chinese community…If there was indeed a security threat facing the country, why was action not taken much sooner? (The Why? Papers by Suaram, 1989)

The crackdown against dissidents at the end of 1987 was the precursor to the assault against the Malaysian Judiciary in 1988 when the Lord President and several other Supreme Court judges were sacked.

As a consequence of those actions by the Mahathir government, the Malaysian Judiciary has not recovered its independence up to the present day. The most recent Lingam Tape scandal is surely a dramatic exposure of this corruption at the highest levels of Malaysian public office.

Furthermore, while the Operation Lalang detainees were at Kamunting detention camp, the ruling coalition amended the ISA at will to frustrate the detainees' attempts to apply for the writ of habeas corpus. In the process, they have made a mockery of the rule of law in Malaysia by removing judges' powers to decide the objective merits of the ISA cases.

Since 1987, the ruling coalition has continued to use the ISA as a convenient tool against dissidents – PBS in the early nineties, Al Arqam, the Reformasi movement and more recently, Islamic groups. None of these detainees have been tried in an open court and can only be presumed to be innocent.

Before and during Operation Lalang, affidavits have been produced to show that detainees were tortured and dehumanized. In the last twenty years, the cases of torture have not diminished and they include the highly publicized cases of Anwar Ibrahim, Munawar Anees and Malek Hussein. Contrary to claims by the ruling coalition, ISA detentions have been for punitive rather than preventive purposes.

Through the years, "state endorsed" torturers have been getting away with their actions, not unlike what has been happening at Guantanamo Bay . Until the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) are established as recommended by the Royal Commission, detainees will continue to be at the mercy of these torturers.

Thus, on this 20th anniversary of Operation Lalang,

1. We call on all Malaysians who cherish justice, human rights and the rule of law to demand the end to detention without trial and to restore the rule of law in Malaysia . Freedom from arbitrary arrests and detention, coupled with the right to challenge it in a court of law are sacred civil liberties which Malaysians are entitled to 50 years after Independence .

It is worth reminding Malaysians that the sixty days of solitary confinement allowed under the ISA and the removal of judges' ability to make an objective appraisal of the ISA cases are more draconian than countries facing terrorist threats, for example Northern Ireland in the 70s; South Africa under Apartheid, or even the US and Britain today.

2. We demand an apology and a sincere expression of remorse from the former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad for depriving so many innocent Malaysians of their freedom and the torture they went through under Operation Lalang.
We would like to remind the public that even wartime detainees are afforded basic protections under the Geneva Convention, which condemns torture and inhuman treatment of detainees.

The National Human Rights Commission, Suhakam has also concluded that "there appears to be sufficient evidence to justify a finding of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of some of the detainees." SUARAM demands a thorough investigation into all allegations of torture under the ISA and for the torturers to be accountable for their actions.

Dr Kua Kia Soong
Director of SUARAM
29th October 2007

Read also :

Malaysia's former king grieves over public's loss of trust in judges - IHT

Another Promised Change! - M Bakri Musa

Is religion being used to divide Malaysia’s workers? - FARISH A NOOR



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