Mahathir to meet Ops Lalang detainees at Oct 28 forum in Penang

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a photo taken on Aug 13, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad will come face to face later this month (October) to more than 30 people who were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1987 when he was in power, reported website The Malaysian Insight.

He is expected to face them at a forum organised by the Penang Institute 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, replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, are still relevant in Malaysia.

Besides Dr Mahathir, the forum will also host Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, Democratic Action Party (DAP) adviser Lim Kit Siang and Parit Buntar MP Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa.

Maria's late husband, Yunus Ali, and Lim were among the 106 detained under the ISA in Kamunting during Ops Lalang.

The 1987 security crackdown, known as Ops Lalang, saw over 100 opposition leaders and government dissenters rounded up and detained without trial under the now-defunct ISA, purportedly to prevent a racial riot from breaking out in the capital.

For years, government critics have pressed for the former prime minister, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, to accept accountability for the operation.

In a 2011 book Doctor M: Operation Malaysia - Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad by American Tom Plate, the former prime minister said: "It was the police who took action against them and I accepted their decision."

In 2014, Dr Mahathir said he took responsibility for the operation, reported Malay Mail.

"Even if the decision was made by somebody else, it is in the Cabinet and I accept responsibility," he told reporters after officiating the Global Peace Foundation Chair for Global Peace in 2014.

The Oct 28 forum will be held in Georgetown, Penang.

The Ops Lalang crackdown which began on Oct 27, 1987, took place after Chinese discontent over alleged interference by the Education Minister in the personnel appointment in vernacular schools, which culminated in a 2,000-strong public demonstration on Oct 11 involving political parties DAP and Malaysian Chinese Association, and the United Chinese School Committees Association Malaysia (UCSCAM), or Dong Jiao Zong.

Although a boycott in Chinese schools was called off, Umno Youth, then led by Najib Razak, who was also minister of culture, youth and sports, held a counter protest in Kampung Baru on Oct 17 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 the crackdown following his own party troubles in Umno after narrowly defending his presidency in the party.

A day after the arrests, the Home Ministry withdrew the licences of four newspapers - The Star and Sunday Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan.

Although the newspapers regained their licences on Mar 22, 1988, media activists say that press freedom has never been the same again.

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