by Gan Pei Ling, 30 Oct 2017 © The Malaysian Insight
THREE decades after Operasi Lalang, the trauma of being detained without trial and interrogated by Special Branch officers lingers on for some of the political detainees.
“One thing that weighed heavily on my mind then was how long were we going to be detained here (at Kamunting). Even a convicted criminal knows their length of sentence.
“It’s difficult to talk about it until now,” one of the four female detainees, Lim Chin Chin, 61, shared with a packed hall at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall tonight.
Lim, Dr Cecilia Ng and Dr Chee Heng Leng, co-founders of the Women’s Development Collective and All Women’s Action Society, and Irene Xavier, who worked with women’s workers organisation Sahabat Wanita, were accused of being Marxists bent on overthrowing the government by rallying women.
The support group for the detainees and their families that later morphed into human rights organisation Suaram was the only good that came out of Operasi Lalang, said Lim.
Irene, 66, said she also endured physical abuse during her 355-day ordeal as a detainee between 1987 and 1988.
“They claimed I was lying, that some of my friends have told them the truth and I haven’t. On that basis, the IO (investigation officer) got angry and beat me,” said Irene.
“However hard I tried to keep my mind sane, I think there are certain things that they have done to me that still bothers me.
“They would repeat names of people you only remotely knew and the memories would come back and become very fresh in your mind.
“I tried very hard (then) to forget the names. I didn’t succeed during the first 60 days. But after that I can forget people’s names very quickly,” she said.
She was also told by the Special Branch officers that she was a very talented leader and they could make sure she became Wanita MIC chief if she supports the then MIC president S. Samy Vellu.
Even after she was released, Irene said the police officers continued to harass her by coming to her house in Seremban at odd hours and shout out her name until she came out.
However, she took heart in her observation that young Malaysians do not share the same fear of being detained without trial as she did in those days.
“Maybe with the setting up of Suaram, something changed. Former detainees (in my time) would only speak when they are alone with you, never in front of others (like tonight),” said Irene.
PSM chairman Dr Nasir Hashim said the Special Branch interrogators would pretend to want to engage in intellectual discourse with him.
“They’ll give you a talk and then ask you what you thought. I’ll repeat the same things they said back to them,” said Dr Nasir.
He added that he was detained underground for the first 60 days and could not tell day from night.
“When they shut the air vent, I couldn’t breath. One time, for three days the ground shook, only when I was released I found out from a contractor that I was detained in Bukit Aman,” he said.
In Kamunting, Dr Nasir, a nutritionist, took up gardening, took care of fallen sparrows and picked up acupuncture.
“I had my clinic and had a special branch couple as my patients. I told them you are my patients in here. Outside of it, we fight,” he recalled.
He was released after 15 months.
Tan Kah Kheng, a detainee and chemical engineer who campaigned against the rare earth refinery in Bukit Merah, said a Special Branch officer bragged about having made many people mad.
Dr Kua Kia Soong said everyone had different coping strategies during their detention, adding that individuals from small political parties like Nasir tend to have it tougher than people from bigger political parties.
Members of the audience asked if the detainees want compensation or retribution from the people responsible for their ordeal.
“We are asking Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) to apologise. We don’t want him detained,” said Kua.
Dr Mahathir has consistently denied responsibility for Operasi Lalang and said it was carried out at the insistence of the then Inspector-General of Police Hanif Omar and Special Branch chief Abdul Rahim Noor.
During Operasi Lalang, 106 people comprising of activists, politicians, academics, students and preachers were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.
The second biggest mass arrest since May 16 racial riots also saw the revocation of two dailies and two weekly newspapers’ publishing licenses.