Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 28 March 2016

I read with incredulity and amusement that some of the Pakatan Harapan politicians at the ‘Save Malaysia’ rally had appointed themselves representatives of the more than 10,000 ISA detainees to forgive Mahathir for his authoritarian rule including use of detention without trial.

The first point of fact worth noting is that up until now, Mahathir has yet to apologize for his authoritarian record and to ask for forgiveness from any of the ISA detainees he incarcerated. The second point is of course the shameless gall of these politicians to arrogate to themselves the role of representating all these former ISA detainees!

The ISA games politicians play

Many politicians today wear their ISA detention like a badge of honour that they can display for maximum political mileage. To them, their ISA detention was bearable as long as it could be used in the advancement of their political careers. In fact, from my detention while at Kamunting, those politicians who were not yet married, who did not yet have their own families or minimally participated in family life had quite a good time there. During Operation Lalang, most of the members of the main political parties and large NGOs were not subjected to physical torture so they may be ready to forgive the man who now opposes the Prime Minister who stands in their political path. Some may even want to thank the former Prime Minister for helping to advance their political careers…

Can these politicians really speak for all of the more than 10,000 ISA detainees since 1960?

Do they represent Loh Meng Liang, who sadly departed last week, and who was detained for more than 16 years? He was my first roommate when we were taken to Kamunting in 1987. He stood for socialist principles that Mahathir’s government considered a threat to national security and saw more than 16 years of his life taken away for his socialist beliefs.

Do they represent Joshua Jamaluddin, the Malay convert to Christianity who suffered gross torture such as this: “On one occasion during interrogation, Inspector Yusoff forced me to strip naked and to enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Inspector Yusoff also forced me to crawl on the floor in a naked state for about 10 minutes…” (Kua Kia Soong, ‘445 Days under the ISA’, 1989:206) This is but a small part of the bestiality by the ISA torturers that Joshua was subjected to.

Do these politicians also represent Munawar Anees, the former confidant of Anwar Ibrahim? In his affidavit:

“Alas, the Malaysian dictator, Mahathir, under the growing burden of corruption and cronyism, conspired to halt the march of freedom. In order to build his fraudulent case against Anwar, Mahathir himself ordered my arrest. My kidnapping and detention by the infamous Malaysian Special Branch taught me how it feels to be forcibly separated from one’s wife and children. How it feels to be searched and seized, disallowed to make phone calls, handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped naked, driven in an animal cage, shaven bald, endlessly interrogated, humiliated, drugged, deprived of sleep, physically abused. What it’s like to be threatened, blackmailed, tormented by police lawyers, brutalized to make a totally false confession, hospitalized for a consequent heart ailment, and treated as a psychiatric patient with symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.” (Dr. Munawar Anees’ Story,

The details of his harrowing experience by these sub-human torturers can be gleaned from his affidavit on the internet. Have any of these Pakatan Harapan politicians asked Dr. Munawar Anees if he forgives Mahathir for the bestiality he went through?

The ISA has been a tool of state repression

The reality is that the ISA has been used as a political tool by the Malaysian state all these years to maintain their class rule. So it is not for the Pakatan Harapan politicians to forgive one man for using the ISA. Do they also forgive the entire ruling class represented in the Malaysian state? Maybe this form of political analysis is beyond the ken of these Harapan politicians…

The use of the ISA goes way back to the Independence days when the main threat to the ruling Alliance coalition was the Socialist Front. Do our present day politicians also claim to represent all those ISA detainees since 1960? Have our Pakatan Harapan politicians undergone the torture that many of these former Socialist leaders and activists had to undergo? The following is an excerpt from a hitherto unpublished statement by “political prisoners of Kawasan A, B, C”, dated 1 May 1969, a historic document released from Batu Gajah Detention Camp:

“1. We political detainees have undergone days and nights of endless interrogation which have inflicted grave toll on the mental condition of many detainees;

  1. During interrogation, we have been handcuffed, had our abdominal parts kicked, our heads bashed against the wall until they bled, and some have had to be hospitalised;
  2. We have had needles stuck in our fingernails and pencils used to squeeze our fingers between them;
  3. We have been burnt with cigarette lighters and hit with elastic bands, some have had nails inserted into their genitals;
  4. We have been asked to strip off our pants and to sit on open bottles;
  5. We have been made to take off our clothing and to stand before fans and air conditioners until we have passed out;
  6. The Banishment Law has been invoked to force political detainees out of the country, while those who do not accept banishment are kept on long-term detentions. Some at Seremban Detention Camp have already been detained for between ten to twenty years;
  7. We political prisoners here have been detained for between four to eight years without trial;
  8. The riot squad has been mobilised to storm our detention camp in order to force those who have refused to wear handcuffs when they leave the camp to do so. In the process, there has been bloodshed;
  9. Health and medical services are very poor in the camp. Those who leave for hospital treatment are forced to be handcuffed. After nine o’clock, we are forced into hot and stuffy cells…”

Forgiveness and impunity

Do I forgive Mahathir for taking away 445 precious days of my life from 1987 to 1989? On the one hand, I may forgive him if he apologises to me and if I am convinced that he has expressed contrition for his oppressive rule. To date, he has not publicly expressed a single word of apology to me or as far as I know, to any of the ISA detainees he put away under his rule.

On the other hand, while I may choose to forgive him for my ISA detention once I am convinced of his show of remorse, Mahathir still needs to account for the many financial and privatization scandals in which he lost up to (according to Barry Wain’s accounting) RM100 billion of the Malaysian people’s monies mainly to crony capitalists.

Our politicians need to know how to differentiate ‘forgiveness’ from ‘impunity”:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.” (The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005)

If our Pakatan Harapan politicians are not committed to combatting impunity, then to be consistent, they will also have to forgive Najib whenever he steps down from office and forget the 1MDB scandal and the 2.6 billion that went into the Prime Minister’s private account.


By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 13 May 2011

When the May 13 Incident broke out in 1969, Said Zahari wrote these lines while under ISA detention in Singapore:

“Once again
History repeats itself
By savage deeds
In a civilized age

Once again
Hidden hands appear
Seeking the blood
Of the poor and the wretched

Once again
Colour, race, religion and language
Become sharp blades
To use in the carnage

It has happened
In every corner of the earth
Where the few eat bread
And the rest sand

It has happened
Where the few clothed in velvet
Sleep in palaces
The rest go naked, squeezed into shacks

It has happened –
Then hidden hands reappear
Spilling the blood of the poor
To cling on to power…”

Said Zahari certainly did not buy the official line that the riots had broken out spontaneously. The thesis of my 2007 title May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 was that the pogrom was orchestrated by these hidden hands to facilitate the rise of the Malay state capitalist class in UMNO and to topple the aristocratic class headed by the Tunku. This opportunity presented itself after the devastating results for the ruling coalition in the 1969 general elections.

It was not until July 1969 – a lapse of two full months – that the security forces played their expected role of restoring order. It was not as if the Malaysian security forces were inexperienced in the role of maintaining order. They had successfully contained the armed insurgency during the Emergency from 1948 to 1960 under more difficult circumstances. Allowing the riots to continue for so many weeks provided an excuse for the new UMNO ruling class to make use of the state of emergency to implement their agenda for political and economic dominance through the New Economic Policy. In this plan, they received the full backing and connivance of the police and military.

Before the publication of my book, UMNO had all along been using “May 13” as a spectre to frighten voters of another pogrom whenever a strong political opposition had arisen to challenge the ruling coalition. This was seen in various general elections such as the one in 1990 when the public broadcasting media RTM was used to purvey scenes of carnage to remind voters of the consequences.

Even the Tunku could see through the ploy. In 1988, he gave short shrift to the Government’s White Paper on Operation Lalang:

“For the Prime Minister (Dr Mahathir) to repeat (the story of) the violence of the May 13 Affair as a warning of what would have happened if the Government had not taken appropriate action immediately is like telling ghost stories to our children to prevent them from being naughty. This is not a childish matter but a matter of national importance. The tale should not be repeated because it shows us to be politically immature.” (SUARAM, “The White Paper on the October Affair and the Why? Papers”, 1989: 5)

The prelude to Operation Lalang saw the UMNO leaders orchestrating racial tension over the transfer of non-qualified administrators to Chinese primary schools. They held a rally in Kampong Baru at which then UMNO Youth Chief and present prime minister was one of the chest thumpers on stage while banners called for “Chinese blood” and “May 13”.

Since then, UMNO has unleashed its Youth group to harass any groups which question UMNO policies such as the mob assault on the East Timor Conference in 1996; the demonstration against the Chinese associations’ Suqiu appeals and threat to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in 2000, among others.

Orchestration of the UMNO- Controlled Media
The UMNO-owned and controlled press, especially Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian have been indispensable accessories in the orchestration of communalism and racial tension to justify authoritarian measures such as was seen in Operation Lalang, 1987 and to frighten the voters into supporting the status quo.

I have monitored the way “The UMNO Media Communalises” in Media Watch: The Use and Abuse of the Malaysian Press, 1990, in order to show you how the trick is done . For example, when the Government was being criticized for the BMF scandal in the eighties, Berita Harian (19.9.86) featured the UMNO president, Dr Mahathir’s veiled threat at the UMNO general assembly: KESABARAN MELAYU ADA HADNYA (“There is a limit to the patience of the Malays”). Utusan Malaysia (19.9.86) would not be outdone: JANGAN AMBIL MUDAH ORANG MELAYU (“Don’t take Malays for granted”)

When there was widespread opposition to the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill in 1986 by all ethnic groups, Utusan Malaysia (6.12.86) chose to feature this headline quoting the UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Mohd Najib: NAJIB INGATKAN ANGGOTA-ANGGOTA UMNO KEPIMPINAN MELAYU SEDANG DICABAR (“Najib alerts UMNO members Malay leadership being challenged”)

During the orchestrated “crisis” over the posting of unqualified administrators to the Chinese primary schools, the banner headline in Berita Harian (19.10.87) read: KEKAL KETUANAN MELAYU – PEMUDA (“Defend Malay dominance – UMNO Youth”)

Then when Tengku Razaleigh was leading the Opposition Front in the 1990 general elections, the editorial headline of Berita Harian (20.4.90) read: POLITIK TENGKU RAZALEIGH MERUGIKAN MELAYU (“Tengku Razaleigh’s politics – Malays lose out”)

One really needs to go further back to the Sixties to monitor how the UMNO media has deliberately communalized issues. It all gets rather tedious to even the most weathered media watcher because they carry on ad nauseum to serve the UMNO agenda for political and economic domination by playing on Malay chauvinism.

As the young generation can see with their own eyes today, the UMNO media have not stopped. The latest caper by Utusan Malaysia alleging a plot to make Christianity an official religion is probably one of the crudest yet in its arsenal of orchestrated untruths.

Yet, has any Utusan Malaysia editor been sacked by their political masters for all these deliberate attempts at stoking racial tensions? So much for Najib’s “1Malaysia” caper! And they wonder why Malaysian professionals are leaving the country…

Demands for the 13th General Elections
Calling upon UMNO and the UMNO-owned and controlled media to be more responsible is like asking a leopard to change its spots. Bumiputraism has been part and parcel of UMNO’s ideology and method for maintaining political and economic power. Demands for social responsibility and ethical standards in the media will not be heeded unless these are enshrined in new democratic institutions.

Therefore, as we mark this 42nd anniversary of May 13, we reiterate the call for:

– A Truth & Reconciliation Commission to honour those who lost their lives in 1969 and to learn the lessons of that dark episode of Malaysian history by pointing the way forward toward national reconciliation;
– An independent Press Council and Broadcasting Authority, whose members and Chair are seen to be truly independent, acceptable and respected by civil society;
– A Race Relations Act to outlaw racism, racial discrimination, hate crimes and other related intolerances and an Equal Opportunities Commission;
– Ratification of the International Convention on the Eradication of Racism, Racial Discrimination and all forms of Intolerance.