No signs that the triple
targets of the 1987 Ops Lalang onslaught, viz human rights, press freedom
and an independent judiciary, are better safeguarded two decades later on
the fourth anniversary of Abdullah’s premiership
Speech at public forum “Remembering Operation Lalang (1987-2007)”
by Lim Kit Siang
The 1987 Operation Lalang mass
Internal Security Act (ISA) dragnet of 106 detainees representing a wide
spectrum of dissent, including MPs, civil rights leaders, Chinese
educationists and social activists, was not only a black day for human
rights in Malaysia, but set the scene for a triple onslaught on the
fundamental basis of a democratic Malaysia – human rights, press freedom
and an independent judiciary.
What stemmed from a fight for political survival of the then Prime
Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who was faced with the greatest
challenge to his power position from within UMNO turned into the most
relentless assault on democracy in Malaysia in the nation’s 50-year
history – and the country is still paying the consequences of that assault.
And what is worse, there are no signs that the triple targets of the 1987
Ops Lalang onslaught, viz human rights, press freedom and an independent
judiciary, and are better safeguarded two decades later on the fourth
anniversary of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s premiership.
I am very disappointed that the Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail had
decided to appeal against the High Court decision awarding Abdul Malek
Hussin RM2.5 million in damages for having been unlawfully arrested,
detained and beaten up while in police custody under the ISA in 1998.
In Parliament last week, an UMNO MP even attacked High Court judge Datuk
Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus for being a “problem judge” for his judgment
and RM2.5 million award for Malek.
The Hishammuddin judgment had been long in coming, as human rights abuses
in the form of physical violence and other forms of torture had been
common treatment meted out to ISA as well as non-ISA detainees – which
must be condemned in no uncertain terms and stopped forthwith.
The Internal Security Act in allowing indefinite detention without trial
is itself a gross violation of human rights and should be repealed without
delay – as there are adequate laws to deal with national security and law
and order in the country.
I had called on the Attorney-General to take the policy decision not to
appeal against the Hishamuddin judgment to send a clear message that the
era of human rights has arrived in Malaysia and that the government will
not countenance any violation of human rights by public servants.
The appeal by the Attorney-General challenging the RM2.5 million awards by
Hishamuddin for Malek is an unmistakable signal that the Malaysian
government remains rooted in the old mind-set where human rights occupy a
very low place in the national order of priorities.
The recent atrocious rating of Malaysia in the Freedom Without Borders (RSF)
2007 press freedom index, plunging 32 spots as compared to last year to
the nation-worst ranking of 124th placing in the RSF annual worldwide
press freedom ranking since it was started in 2020 should drive home the
sad point that press freedom in Malaysia have not been able to get out of
the manacles which shackled it during Operation Lalang, which saw the
closure of four newspapers.
The saddest story, however, is the failure in past four years of the
Abdullah premiership to restore the doctrine of separation of powers which
was subverted by Operation Lalang with the judiciary subordinated as a
subservient organ of the Executive.
The 1988 judiciary crisis over the arbitrary and unconstitutional sacking
of Tun Saleh Abas as Lord President and Datuk George Seah and the late Tan
Sri Wan Suleman Pawanteh as Supreme Court judges signaled the worst
devastation of the rule of law and an independent judiciary.
For the past two decades, the country has been reeling from one judiciary
crisis to another, the latest over the failure of judicial leadership of
the Chief Justice, Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, the Lingam Tape
scandal, Ahmad Fairuz’ preposterous application for a six-month extension
as Chief Justice and whether Malaysia will have an UMNO Chief Justice for
the first time in 50 years.
Tonight, we are gathered here to remember the “black day” for democracy in
Malaysia with its triple assault on human rights, press freedom and an
independent judiciary, must take cognizance that the situation today on
all these three fundamentals of a democratic nation are even worse today
than before Ops Lalang 20 years ago.
Malaysian citizens must dare to exercise their constitutional and
political rights particularly in the next general election to hold the
present government to account for its failures in the past four years to
“walk the talk” to restore to Malaysians the three democratic fundamentals
of human rights, press freedom and the independence of the judiciary which
succumbed to Executive assaults during Operation Lalang.
Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic
Planning Commission Chairman