From Kasthuri Patto
Oct 27, 1987 – 34 years ago – will forever be etched in my mind and the minds of many family members as the D-Day of Operasi Lalang (Ops lalang), conducted by the then Barisan Nasional government to “weed out” voices of dissent, labelling them as a “threat to national security”.
My father, P Patto, and leaders like Karpal Singh, Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng, V David, Kerk Kim Hock, Sim Tong Hin, Hu Sepang, Mahfuz Omar, Yunus Ali, Mohamad Sabu, Khalid Samad, Brother Anthony Rogers, Meenakshi Raman, Chee Heng Leng, Theresa Lim and even Tajuddin Abdul Rahman belonged to the Ops Lalang alumni, and what painful memories it brings me today.
The list ranged from MPs and assemblymen to lecturers, engineers, educationists, environmentalists, women’s rights leaders, religious leaders, rubber tappers, a vegetable seller, a market hawker, the chairman of a factory union, businessmen and human rights defenders, who were all “scooped” in the biggest haul by Malaysian authorities – a total of 106 men and women.
Their crime? Upholding human rights, democracy, freedom and demanding for accountability and good governance.
My father was detained on Oct 27 under the then Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) and had five charges against him. He was detained for 15 months without trial, with no opportunity to defend himself, and held illegally with trumped-up charges by a paranoid government.
His party comrades faced the same situation, with Kit Siang and Guan Eng detained on Oct 26 and the last to be released among their peers.
The primary objective of the ISA was its use as a preventive detention law – that is, detention without trial – to counter and combat communist insurgents. Although the Emergency ended in 1960, the ISA was passed in the same year and was arbitrarily used and abused by the government for decades after that – as and when it pleased – to silence voices of opposition and dissent.
Although it was abolished in 2012 after growing nationwide and international protests, the ISA was inevitably replaced by other regressive laws such as the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
A government that falls back on using regressive, preventive laws like Sosma shows it not only fears the people but also the essence of what a government is built on – democracy, freedom, equality, justice, integrity, accountability and good governance.
While we sometimes look at human rights violations and the use of such “detention without trial” laws in other countries and shake our heads in dismay, let us also be reminded of the same laws that we have in our country and the imminent risk of those laws being used on anyone, including you and me.
If Maria Chin Abdullah could be detained in solitary confinement for 10 days under Sosma, if assemblymen P Gunasekaran and G Saminathan and scores of Malaysians can be held under this draconian law, then what assurance do we have that our own family members may not be affected?
Malaysia has adequate laws to nab criminals, including those in organised crime and gang members, and there is no leeway or shortcut for them. They must face the music for their actions. But arrests without proof or evidence, and detention for an uncertain period of time must be challenged by all Malaysians.
Regressive laws like Sosma and the Sedition Act 1948 must be abolished and not used as a political tool by the powers that be. A government that continues to use such laws against its people is a threat to parliamentary democracy.
The government of Keluarga Malaysia, which is now a newly minted member of the UN Human Rights Council, must show the world and its counterparts on the council that we walk the talk and not merely offer lip service.
In memory of all the men and women who were detained under Operasi Lalang, 34 years ago.
The writer’s father P Patto belonged to the Ops Lalang alumni.
Kasthuri Patto is the MP for Batu Kawan and international secretary of Wanita DAP.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.