KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 — Cries of “Ops Lalang II” following an apparent crackdown on dissent over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction are premature, said two former detainees who expressed alarm over the growing number of arrests.
According to DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, the current arrests have not approached the scale of the 1987 security dragnet that saw over a hundred people detained under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA).
“I wouldn’t really compare it with Ops Lalang, because that was a series of mass arrests,” Lim, who had been held without trial then, told Malay Mail Online.
His son, Penang Chief Minister and another former Ops Lalang detainee Lim Guan Eng, concurred.
“I don’t think we are at that level yet,” he said. “But it (the crackdown) is slowly building in intensity.”
Despite saying the current suppression was not a repeat of the 1987 incident, however, the elder Lim voiced grave concern over the arrests and called it “an ominous crackdown on dissent.”
He also asked why it was necessary for the police to arrest people who questioned the Federal Court’s decision to uphold Opposition Leader Anwar’s sodomy conviction, saying that a fair ruling should be able to survive all scrutiny.
“The (perceived justice) of the decision of the highest court must stand or fall in the eyes of the public based on their own logic, and not require coercion by the police in order to cow people into acceptance,” he said.
Following the Federal Court’s decision to jail Anwar on February 10, the Inspector-General of Police ordered sedition investigations against DAP’s Nga Kor Ming, PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli and cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque or “Zunar” as he is popularly known. Zunar was arrested the same day.
Sedition probes were also started against Jingga 13 chief and PKR member Fariz Musa, Penang state executive councillor Dr Afif Bahardin, and Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary-general S. Arutchelvan who was arrested on Thursday.
These and the sedition onslaught from last year prompted Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen, who is also under investigation for sedition, to draw parallels with the 1987 crackdown.
“This is Ops Lalang II, and the Sedition Act is akin to the new ISA, widely used and abused to target opposition and dissidents,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Civil liberties lawyer New Sin Yew agreed with this assessment. “It’s already a crackdown,” he said. “It’s an onslaught.”
One key difference is that the ISA had allowed for arbitrary and indefinite detention without trial while the Sedition Act, despite criticisms of abuse, does not provide police with such broad powers.
Ops Lalang was a security crackdown carried out by the Mahathir administration in 1987 purportedly over fears of racial clashes stemming from allegations of interference in Chinese vernacular education, but was perceived as a move to quash political dissent as over 100 mainly-opposition figures were detained.