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In keeping with his pledge to be reformist and modern-day Justice Pao to uphold justice, Abdullah as Prime Minister should redeem the two-decade old injustice and tender a public apology to the 106 victims of Operation Lalang ISA dragnet

Speech at public forum "Operation Lalang-20 Years Today"          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Malacca, Saturday): At this hour on this day 20 years ago, Lim Guan Eng, who had been elected Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka for just a year, had already been detained as the first of 106 detainees representing a wide spectrum of dissent, including MPs, civil rights leaders, Chinese educationists and social activists in the Operation Lalang mass arrests under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

By this hour 20 years ago, Karpal Singh and I had also been detained; when together with other DAP MPs we went to the High Street Kuala Lumpur Police Station over Guan Eng’s detention.

The 1987 Ops Lalang mass ISA detentions was not only a black day for human rights in Malaysia, it also marked the most relentless assault on democracy in Malaysia and we are still paying the consequences of that assault – which stemmed from the 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.

One upshot of Mahathir’s battle for his political life 20 years ago was the Operation Lalang and 106 ISA detainees and another was the subversion of the doctrine of the separation of powers, with Parliament and the judiciary subordinated as subservient organs of the Prime Minister.

The seeds for 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 were sown at this period.

Even before the Operation Lalang, there were moves by Mahathir to subjugate the judiciary and I had publicly spoken up against a proposal to move a substantive motion in Parliament to censure the then High Court judge, the late Justice Harun Hashim, as a lesson to all judges to toe the Executive line.

Today, Malaysia is still paying a heavy price for the fateful decisions taken 20 years ago to undermine the democratic fundamentals in the country as represented by the doctrine of the separation of powers – with the country reeling from one judiciary crisis to another in the past two decades, 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 from Nov. 1 and whether Malaysia will have an UMNO Chief Justice for the first time in 50 years.

Although the doctrine of the separation of powers and the principle of the independence of the judiciary had been subverted for nearly two decades, the judicial landscape is not totally bleak and desolate as evidenced by the courageous and path-breaking judgment by the Kuala Lumpur High Court a week ago in awarding an ISA detainee, Abdul Malek Hussin RM2.5 million in damages for having been unlawfully arrested, detained and beaten up while in police custody in 1998.

This landmark decision was made by High Court judge Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus – and this Hishamudin is not that Hishammuddin of the “Malay keris” notoriety!

On Thursday, the Barisan Nasional MP for Jerai, Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin openly attacked Justice Hishamudin from the floor of Parliament during his speech on the 2008 Budget, denouncing Hishamuddin as a “problem judge” for his decision on the Malik Hussein case.

It is sober reminder that Malaysia has still a long way to go before the enlightened view of Justice Hishamuddin can find acceptance as mainstream establishment opinion.

Twenty years after the darks days of Operation Lalang, one thing is clear and indisputable – not a single one of the 106 Ops Lalang detainees should have been detained under the infamous and draconian detention-without trial law, and Ops Lalang represented the most glaring example of the blatant and flagrant example of the misuse and abuse of the ISA for political purposes completely unrelated to any acceptable notion or consideration of national security.

For this reason, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in keeping with his pledge when he acceded to the highest office of the land to be reformist and modern-day Justice Pao to uphold justice, should redeem the two-decade old injustice and tender a public apology to the 106 victims of Operation Lalang ISA dragnet as not a single one should have been persecuted with the ISA 20 years ago. The ISA should also be repealed and removed from the statute books.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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