KUALA LUMPUR: The wife of activist Kua Kia Soong, who was detained without trial under Operasi Lalang for 445 days, today recalled the traumatic moments 30 years ago when police swooped into their house in the dead of night and snatched her husband away.
Author Anne Munro-Kua said nothing could prepare one for such an ordeal.
“I knew the police could plant a gun in the house and that you’d end up in prison on death row, but nothing could have prepared me for that night, not even after we had already predicted that they would come for my husband,” she said.
“I would have thought that officers of the law, acting in accordance with the law, would have done their jobs in broad daylight.
“But it was in the middle of the night when two unmarked cars and ten officers we assumed were Special Branch, had come to take my husband away,” she added.
She related the experience at an event to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operasi Lalang at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall here which also featured the re-publication of her book titled “Autocrats vs the People: Authoritarian Populism in Malaysia”.
Operasi Lalang began on Oct 27, 1987, purportedly to prevent the occurrence of racial riots in the country.
It saw 106 people, including civil society activists, NGO leaders, opposition politicians, intellectuals and student activists, detained without trial under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) while Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister.
The campaign was undertaken against the backdrop of a split within Umno in 1986 and 1987, that saw a clash between two opposing groups in the party, one led by Mahathir, and the other by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Musa Hitam.
Munro-Kua said doing research again on the crackdown reminded her that all those who were detained were collateral damage over the conflict in Umno.
She recalled how her motherly instincts had kicked in when the police showed up at their house.
“I felt like a she-wolf protecting her cubs. The first thing I did was to tell the police to show their identification otherwise I would not open the grill and that was the first time I was glad homes in Malaysia had grills,” she said.
“The next thing I did was to run out to the street and call out at the top of my lungs ‘Mr Yong! (her neighbour), Special Branch are here to arrest my husband’ because I wanted my neighbours to see what was happening so the police would know they were being watched.
“My third she-wolf act was to stand in front of my children’s rooms and say, ‘Oh no, you’re not going in there,’ and the police listened to me,” she added.
She said when the police had finally put Kua into a car and driven off, she found herself in the middle of the road, all alone. “The she-wolf collapsed,” she said.
Munro-Kua said what kept her going throughout her husband’s detention was the support she received from those around her, and her children.
Among the prominent detainees in the crackdown were then DAP secretary-general Lim Kit Siang, DAP deputy chairman Karpal Singh, MCA vice-president and Perak chief Chan Kit Chee, PAS Youth chief Halim Arshat, Umno Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali, and Umno Youth Education chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim.
Prominent non-political detainees included Aliran chairman Chandra Muzaffar, Dong Jiao Zong chairman Lim Fong Seng, Women’s Aid Organisation member Irene Xavier and the Consumers Association of Penang’s Meenakshi Raman.