Not many people, especially the English- and Malay-educated youths, remember or know who Chan Kok Kit was. Yet, Chan Kok Kit was a real fighter simply by virtue of his fortitude, perseverance and moral courage in facing a 57-month detention without trial under the obnoxious Internal Security Act (ISA) from 1976 to 1981.

He emerged from the Bastille uncompromised like a true hero.

As a founder of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), former member of Parliament, state assembly representative and respected veteran of the party, Chan Kok Kit was a household name in the late 1970s and 1980s in the Chinese community, especially its Chinese-speaking segment, because he fought for the fundamental human right of Chinese Malaysians to mother-tongue education and the democratic rights of all communities, both inside and outside Parliament.

He passed away peacefully and honourably at the age of 76 on March 5, 2001.

Chan Kok Kit was on the list of the DAP pro-tem committee in 1966. He had been a vocal party spokesperson on Chinese education, despite the fact that he had not yet been elected to any legislature.

His first taste of political persecution was when he was charged under the Sedition Ordinance in connection with two 1974 general elections posters used by DAP. However, he was subsequently acquitted.

On November 2, 1976, Chan Kok Kit was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) together with the elected DAP member of Parliament for Batu Gajah, Chian Heng Kai. They were alleged to be 'fellow-travelers' of the 'Communist United Front'.

There was no open trial for them to dispute the allegations. The allegations have never been proven in any civilised and open court of law until today. Others who were detained at the same time and on similar grounds were Abdullah Ahmad, Abdullah Majid, Kassim Ahmad and a former senior editor of a Chinese-language newspaper.

Huge majority

The second-half of the 1970s was a period of anti-communist paranoia and political witch-hunting because of the fear of the Domino Theory taking effect in the region; that the Southeast Asian nations would fall one after another into communism as a result of victories of communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

According to a record in DAP history, Chan Kok Kit and Chian Heng Kai were offered immediate freedom if they would appear on television and 'confess' that by championing Chinese education they were 'wittingly and unwittingly, consciously and unconsciously' aiding the Communist United Front's activities, but both spurned the offer despite their yearning for freedom.

Kassim Ahmad also stood firm and did not yield. The other three 'confessed' on television, a form of uncivilised procedure used in Stalin's show trials in the 1930s and Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

While under detention, the Chan Kok Kit's wife passed away. In the 1978 general elections, he won a parliamentary seat under the DAP ticket while still under detention. And he won by a huge majority of 33,687 against a free and unfettered MCA man.

It was, in the words of my late father who cheered openly in our coffee shop the night when the result was announced on radio, a people's verdict against his jailer and the gross injustices inflicted on him and his family. His fellow detainee Chian Heng Kai was also returned within the Bastille as a DAP member of Parliament, elected by the people outside the Bastille.

Chan Kok Kit was finally released without conditions together with his fellow detainee Chian Heng Kai on July 31, 1981. He continued to serve out his first term as member of Parliament. In the 1982, he retained the seat for another four years. From 1986 to 1990, Chan Kok Kit served as an elected state assembly representative for Kajang in Selangor. He retired from active politics voluntarily and honourably in 1990.

True fighter

In retrospect, we can say on a high and firm moral ground that the jailer of Chan Kok Kit was wrong, and Chan Kok Kit was right.

Let history show that the Barisan Nasional government which detained Chan Kok Kit without trial for four years and nine months was, and still is guilty of depriving this good and innocent man of his God-given liberty and well-being for four years and nine months.

Despite his retirement, Chan Kok Kit still cared for the younger generations of the party. He gave advice and encouragement, his powerful, solid and compassionate voice an inspiration to the poor and downtrodden in towns and villages. He was a voice for the voiceless.

Farewell, my dear friend and true fighter of justice and human dignity! May your soul rest in peace. May your upright spirit as a fighter continue to inspire brave Malaysians of all communities in many years to come.

JAMES WONG WING ON, a former member of Parliament (1990-1995) and now a leading Mandarin-Chinese opinion writer and columnist, read political science and economics at the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia from 1983 to 1986. All views expressed herein are his own.

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