(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Today, ten years ago, marked the end of the Operation Lalang mass arrests of Opposition leaders and critics of the government of the day when Lim Guan Eng and I were the last two of the Operation Lalang detainees to walk out of the Kamunting Detention Centre after 18 months of incarceration.
Guan Eng and I were among the first of 106 people who were detained under Operation Lalang in 1987 and the last two to be released – something which bespoke volumes.
Ten years after our release from the Internal Security Act detention, Guan Eng has again lost his personal freedom and is in the eighth month of imprisonment in Kajang Prison not for any crime of arson, armed robbery, rape or murder but for diligently and courageously discharging his duties as a Member of Parliament to defend the honour, dignity, women rights and human rights of a 15-year-old girl victim of statutory rape.
In fact, Guan Eng is the first case in the 42-year nationhood where a Malaysian political leader crossed race and religion to champion the fundamental rights of a citizen of another race, religion and even gender regardless of personal costs or consequences. Instead of being held as a role model for all Malaysians in a plural society, Guan Eng is victimised, persecuted and punished – thrown into jail, disqualified as Member of Parliament, deprived of the right to stand for elective office for five years from the date he is released from jail, lost his parliamentalry allowance, gratuity and pension – as well as forfeiting his professional qualifications as an accountant as he is now regarded as a criminal!
Ten years after the end of Operation Lalang, Malaysia has not become more democratic but has developed a political culture which is even more stifling and oppressive.
The occasion of the tenth anniversary of the end of Operation Lalang has also raised two other questions:
Firstly, whether and when will be the next major crackdown against human rights and democratic freedoms, involving the mass arrest of Opposition leaders and criticis of the government just like Operation Lalang 12 years ago. This question has become particularly pertinent in view of the increasingly intolerant attitude of the authorities to the exercise of the constitutional rights of Malaysian citizens to their fundamental liberties of freedom of speech, assembly and association; and
Secondly, just as the assault on democracy and civil society under Operation Lalang a decade ago did not end with the arrest of 106 people but were followed with a wholesale attack on press freedom, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, a similarly disturbing trend has developed – with the crisis of confidence in the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law and a free and responsible press having fallen to their lowest levels since nationhood 42 years ago.
The 10th anniversary of the end of Operation Lalang today should be an occasion for serious thought by all Malaysians as to what they should or could do to prevent a second Operation Lalang from taking place in Malaysia to further blot the good name and international reputation of the country.