Whose ISA baby – Dr M’s or ex-IGP’s?

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Dr M may argue that he was not the perpetrator of human rights violations under the ISA as he did not physically or directly commit such acts. But, as Angeline Loh points out, nobody who was leader of a government at the time of such violations can wipe out the past.


Dr M is getting old and, many may mildly put it, nyanyok (senile), but age and possible ‘infirmity’ in whatever form cannot wipe out past acts, whether these acts were committed in youth or middle age, especially in the capacity of Prime Minister of a sovereign nation.

Having scoured some of the print and online reports of one of his ‘unforgettable’ public statements made on 17 February 2011, I have not come across what I saw and heard in the ntv7‘s Chinese news report that night. Many ‘cyberniks’ and commentators are up in arms over Dr M’s claim that he did not favour the usage of the ISA in 1987’s infamous Operasi Lalang and that he wanted to scrap this draconian law, but was advised or allegedly ‘obliged’ to maintain it for national security reasons by the then IGP, Hanif Omar (Free Malaysia Today, 17 February 2011, ‘ISA repeal: Dr M says cops cuffed him’).

This evasion of responsibility for the 1987 crackdown on leaders of opposition political parties, a few Umno contras, civil society activists, church workers, and individuals working with poor communities in various parts of the country was made at a forum on democracy at which Dr M, Hanif and former ISA detainee Dr Chandra Muzaffar were all speakers on the same panel (The Star Online, 18 February 2011, ‘Dr. M: I tried to scrap ISA’)

Although ntv7 did not show the whole session and a majority of press and online reports noted that Hanif apparently accepted responsibility for the use of the ISA and implementation of Operasi Lalang, it seemed the former IGP still felt a need to qualify that responsibility by passing the ISA baby back to Dr. M.

Hanif replied to Dr M in words to this effect – “Memang Tun tak mahu ISA, tetapi bukan kami (Polis) yang menggubal undang-undang…Parlimen yang membuat undang-undang.. (Certainly, Tun didn’t want the ISA, but it is not us (the Police) who make the laws…Parliament makes the laws…)” (ntv7, Chinese news, 9.30pm, 17 February 2011).

It appears that whiles Hanif accepts being called the ‘mastermind’ and implementer of Operasi Lalang, he is still subject to orders from higher up, and who else was the CEO of Malaysia Incorporated, then? Moreover, if the PM (as Dr M, was then) was really concerned and genuinely wanted the ISA repealed, he could have taken it to Parliament, where the BN had a strong majority at that time. The repeal of the ISA would not have been very difficult as so many amendments to this law and other laws, including the Federal Constitution had been bulldozed through Parliament, despite objections raised by the Opposition.

So, the ex-IGP says yes and no at the same time to his share of responsibility for Operasi Lalang. This gives the impression that Hanif, whilst taking the blame for one of the darkest events in Malaysian history, wants to save the police force from being seen as mere automatons following orders from higher up without question. Alternatively, the police appear to have the power to hold the government to ransom (according to Dr.M) – and so the sandiwara continues with all this wayang kulit shadow play.

Yet, most people believe the ISA baby is Dr.M’s, adopted by the ex-IGP (Malaysiakini, 10 February, ‘Hard to believe Dr M on Ops Lalang’) despite the ex-PM’s disclaimer (Free Malaysia Today, “Mahathir is a liar, says Mohamad Sabu” downloaded 24 February 2011) published in ‘Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad’ by Tom Plate, recently launched at the Perdana Leadership Foundation (Bernama, 22 February 2011, ‘Book on Dr. Mahathir Launched’).
Contrary to the ex-PM’s candid denial distancing himself from the dastardly ISA and heinous Operasi Lalang, the features of the 1987 crackdown bear much resemblance to those in the past, particularly another, less referred to tragedy that took place in the little known village of Kampung Memali, Baling, in Kedah, earlier in 1985 (Din Merican: The Malaysian DJ Blogger – “Memali, Its Forgotten People and NEP”, 20 August 2010).

At that time, Dr M. was conveniently on a state visit to China (Din Merican ibid) and the blame for the violent crushing and death of Ibrahim Libya and his Memali village ‘rebels’ that included old people, women and children, was impliedly put on DPM Musa Hitam’s shoulders. Will we see more denials and finger pointing coming out of the past from ministers who served under Mahathir who now have to take the sole blame for human rights violations?

Perhaps, since ‘superior orders’ is not a defence for committing crimes against humanity, Dr M may argue that he was not the ‘perpetrator’ of these human rights violations as he did not physically or directly commit such acts. However, nobody who was leader of a government at the time of such violations can wipe out the past. Sooner or later one’s deeds return to be accounted for.

Angeline Loh is an Aliran executive committee member

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