MP SPEAKS | Thirty years after Operasi Lalang, and five years after the demise of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), Najib Abdul Razak’s track record after eight years as prime minister shows he is determined to revive the ghost of political persecutions through laws that threaten fundamental liberties as a means to stay in power.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Operasi Lalang dragnet where the BN government victimised more than 106 men and women from all walks of life, accusing them to be enemies of the state and a threat to national security.
Some were detained for a few days, some weeks, some a few months and some for the full two years. None had the opportunity to be brought to a court of law to be heard by a judge. All detainees under Operasi Lalang were denied justice which is a fundamental right in this country.
Section 8(B)(1) of the ISA states “There shall be no judicial review in any court of, and no court shall have or exercise any jurisdiction in respect of, any act done or decision made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the minister in the exercise of their discretionary power in accordance with this Act.”
The glaring words here are “no judicial review” which is a denial of the right to a fair and free trial in a court of law.
Let us not forget the gallant speech made by Najib (photo) on Sept 15, 2011, in celebrating Malaysia Day, to abolish the ISA, which was subsequently repealed in 2012. The nation rejoiced - in just three years of being prime minister, Najib had abolished an Act of 42 years, which was used as a weapon to silence voices of dissent, critiquing the establishment of abuses of power, corruption and potent race-based and religious-based politics.
Politicians and civil society alike welcomed the move, seen as progressive and democratic by the Najib leadership to repeal this archaic act, albeit a great suspicion that a precious jewel like the ISA cannot be simply snuffed out.
The suspicion did not last long as the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) which was forced through Parliament on Nov 29, 2011 and came into force in 2012, with great opposition from civil society, the Malaysian Bar and parliamentarians alike, being undemocratic and giving absolute powers to the police and the home minister.
From here began an onslaught of repressive laws. The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or Sosma which was debated and passed into the wee hours of the morning in 2012 and further amended in 2017, amendments to the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) in 2015, the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 2015, and finally the National Security Council (NSC) Act debated, resisted and passed belligerently in the Dewan Rakyat in 2016.
Not forgetting Section 124B of the Penal Code which explicitly yet vaguely criminalises “activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, Section 124C which is “attempt to commit activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, and even Section 124D which states “printing, sale, etc, of documents and publication detrimental to parliamentary democracy”, including Section 124E which states “possession of documents and publication detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.
Poca and Sosma will be used for short-term detention without trial, Section 124B of the Penal Code warrants for 20 years in prison for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy, and the NSC Act which gives authoritarian, executive, emergency powers to the prime minister; paving the way for a certain abuse.
The PM lacks enlightenment
Under Najib’s administration, in such a short period of time, many laws had been amended including the introduction of new laws that continue to curb, restrict and restraint freedom to assemble, to speak and to publish as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Despite having numerous laws passed and amended that is a threat to the Federal Constitution, parliamentary democracy and freedom under his own leadership since he took office in 2009, the prime minister's comments in Washington in September this year at the Banyan Tree Leadership forum by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies and Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies, are nothing but a farce and a joke when he said democracy is thriving where free speech is propagated.
He couldn’t be further from the truth. He unashamedly also pointed out that some elements creating false impressions that Malaysia was in danger of sliding into a dictatorship.
The prime minister lacks enlightenment as legislation that is dictatorial in nature is a reflection of a dictatorial government led by dictatorial leadership. Nothing more and nothing less.
Laws that threaten freedom of speech, religious freedom, fundamental liberties, democracy and justice, in its own right are detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
Regressive laws exist to keep governments in power as we have seen where many offences in the mentioned laws, are not spelt out clearly giving an upper hand to the government to detain anyone who intimidates them, even for life.
What is apparent in all these dictatorial oppressive acts is the denial of the right to be tried before a court of law, the right to be heard and the fundamental right of natural justice that has been extinguished all in the name of national security.
Instead of projecting to the world that the BN government is committed to burying the Operasi Lalang of 1987 by making progressive, democratic changes to the law, the government has shown their lack of political will and insistence to uphold the spirit of the Federal Constitution which defends freedom, democracy, equality and justice for all.
Thirty years after Operasi Lalang and eight years into the Najib administration, Malaysians are threatened with archaic, discriminatory, unjust laws that threaten democracy, freedom and equality exhuming the corpse of Operasi Lalang and the spirit of ISA is kept alive as a desperate means to cling on to power.
KASTHURI PATTO is MP for Batu Kawan.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.