KUALA LUMPUR • Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad will, later this month, come face to face with more than 30 people who were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1987 when he was in power, reported news site The Malaysian Insight.
He is expected to meet them to discuss their detentions without trial at a forum organised by the Penang Institute in George Town on Oct 28.
"This will bring some closure to what was the biggest crackdown on politicians, activists and academics in the country," a member of the organising committee, who did not want to be named, told The Malaysian Insight.
The forum will also discuss whether repressive laws such as the now-defunct ISA, which has been replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, are still relevant in Malaysia.
Besides Tun Dr Mahathir, the forum will also host Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, chairman of civil society movement Bersih 2.0, and Mr Lim Kit Siang, adviser to the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP).
Ms Chin's late husband Yunus Ali and Mr Lim were among the 106 people detained in the prison camp in Kamunting, Perak, during a 1987 security crackdown dubbed Ops Lalang. Teachers, opposition leaders and government dissenters were rounded up and detained without trial, purportedly to prevent racial riots from breaking out in Kuala Lumpur.
This came after the Education Ministry appointed 100 senior assistants and supervisors at Chinese vernacular schools, prompting a 2,000-strong demonstration on Oct 11, 1987, involving political parties DAP and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), and the United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia.
The youth wing of ruling Malay party Umno, then led by current Prime Minister Najib Razak, held a counter-protest, calling for the resignation of MCA deputy president Lee Kim Sai.
Dr Mahathir, who was then Prime Minister and Home Minister, was alleged to have approved Ops Lalang, following his own party troubles after narrowly defending his presidency in Umno.
A day after the arrests, the Home Ministry withdrew the printing licences of four newspapers - The Star and Sunday Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan. The newspapers regained their licences in 1988.
For years, government critics have pressed for Dr Mahathir to accept responsibility for masterminding the operation.