Hornbill Unleashed

April 4, 2009

Najib and Taib: An Arresting Couple

By Pak Bui

Recalling 1987

Operation Lalang on October 27, 1987 was the last time the ISA was used on a “megaproject” scale – the biggest crackdown siunce May 13, 1969. Mahathir Mohamad used the ISA against his opponents, when his position as Umno president was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh.

Mahathir had just won the Umno election amid furious allegations of cheating. Umno was turned into a new party – or was it? Um, no it wasn’t, it stayed the same old racist party it always was.

Faced with a divided party, Mahathir adopted a traditional Umno solution: stir up racial hatred, declare a threat to national security, and jail political opponents. Then relax, lean back and watch an uplifting American family TV programme like Eight is Enough.

Mahathir’s critics were seized in a bully’s binge: 106 politicians, environmentalists (including Harrison Ngau Laing in Sarawak), religious converts, social workers and teachers were sent out of sight, out of mind, and certainly well out of earshot, to the ISA detention camp, “Universiti Kedua”, in Kamunting, Perak.

KK tan under ISA

I met one ISA “graduate” shortly after he was released from Kamunting. Tan KK was Vice President of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia. He had the unwelcome privilege of being the first ISA detainee to be arrested.

Tan was an academic from Taiping, intelligent and meditative, but humorous and kind, too. He worked for the rights of Dayak people in Sarawak, at a time when massive logging and land-theft was already spreading like cancer. He campaigned against the Bakun Dam megaproject. He raised awareness that the greed of Sarawak’s timber companies was causing suffering among rural Dayaks, that land was being seized from Dayak communities who had been surviving off the forest. He was a true “anak Perak, bangsa Malaysia”.

Poisoning Communities in Papan

Tan had also worked for the people of Papan, Perak, to expose the poisoning of their soil and water, by a company manufacturing semicondutors for TV sets. The company, Asian Rare Earth (ARE), partly owned by Mitsubishi and Tabung Haji, was protected by Mahathir and his cronies, but ARE lost its licence, after the people of Papan held public demonstrations and won people’s support all over the country, with the help of the printed press (the Internet was still an expensive toy in those days).

In Papan, exactly as in Taib Mahmud’s aluminium megaproject in Bintulu, local communities were told the industry was safe and would bring them “development”. But the cronies owning the factory cared only about profit, not health, nor development. Radioactive ARE chemicals leaked into the water. The rates for leukaemia among children, and abnormalities in pregnant mothers and newborns, were higher in Papan than elsewhere. Eventually, ARE went out of business

Jailed Without Hope

Tan declined, at first, to talk about his two months in solitary confinement, saying he did not want to perpetuate a climate of “white fear” among fellow Malaysians. Then one day, he sat down and described what he went through. The Special Branch kept him isolated. They kept saying Tan’s fellow activists had deserted him. They deprived him of sleep. They screamed at him and threatened him, working in shifts. They stripped him, to humiliate him. They hosed him down with cold water and kept an air-conditioner blowing on his shivering body. They did not allow him to bathe, soap himself or even brush his teeth, to break down his dignity.

He was traumatised by the solitary confinement, and often felt he might never be set free. He tried to keep his mind and body together by doing push-ups, and running in a figure-eight around his tiny cell. But the mental torture made him suffer: he imagined a giant cobra coiled around him when he was trying to sleep.

A Mirror Image in Sarawak

There was also another sweep of political opponents, less well publicised, at the time of Operation Lalang. In Sarawak, 42 Kayan people from Uma Bawang were also arrested, for trying to defend their land against a timber company. They were jailed under the Penal Code, while the attention of the international community was directed at Mahathir. The villagers were beaten and threatened. Their arrests were not well publicised, since attention had been distracted by Operation Lalang. The cover-up was like someone who farts when someone else is coughing.

By 1987, more than 2,500 Iban, Kayan, Kenyah and Penan villagers, all across Sarawak, had built blockades across timber company access roads. These blockades were just a felled tree or a few branches, with men, women and children standing behind the flimsy barricades. The police, virtual servants for the timber companies, broke many blockades down, using tear gas, even firing live ammunition over the defenseless villagers’ heads.

Villagers recall a Penan man and a woman were beaten to death by thugs, brought in by the timber companies from the towns, at a blockade at Long Mobui. A young girl and an elderly man died near Long Ajeng from breathing difficulties after being tear-gassed.

The blockades have mostly been dismantled now, but blockades continue in Bintulu, Belaga and Baram, despite violence from the police and the timber companies. The champions of such development that makes the eyes water, even passed an amendment to the Forest Ordinance (S90B), so that anyone standing near a blockade could be arrested and jailed for up to two years. Hundreds of rural Dayaks have been jailed without trial, and beaten, since 1987.

Detention without trial in Sarawak

One Kenyah headman, Buau, remembers policemen holding his arms while others punched him in his chest and stomach, after his village’s blockade had cost the timber company huge losses. Buau, like Tan KK, did not like to recall his arrest and beating. But Buau described it to an audience of Bidayuh villagers near Bau, so that the Bidayuh would know what to expect when they were setting up their own blockade against a timber company.

Another community leader, Gahang, a Penan, describes having his hands bound befoire he was beaten with sticks in the police truck. He recounts standing in the police station with his arms tied outstretched, while the policemen slapped and punched him and put the barrel of a gun against his stomach and his head. Yet he tried to reason with them, and he still does today. The blockade near his village, Long Benali, still stands, and the community’s forest remains out of reach of the logging company – link to http://www.rimba.com/nomads/nomads1.html

Najib’s Stand

What was the position of our unelected Prime-Minister, Najib Razak, regarding torture and mass arrests in 1987? He was lying low. He had started the fire of racial hatred, after his master, Mahathir, had almost lost the Umno presidency. As Umno Youth leader, Najib organised a rally in Kampung Baru, screaming for a Malay uprising against Chinese educationists.

Kampung Baru was a significant location for Najib’s call to arms. Kampung Baru had been the tinderbox of the May 13, 1969 ethnic violence – ushering in the emergency rule of Najib’s father Razak. Dr Kua Kia Soong, another ISA “graduate”, dissected the orchestration of the violence, by Malay politicians aiming to topple Tunku Abdul Rahman, in the book, “May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969” (Suaram 2007) – link to http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/67098.

In Najib’s own Kampung Baru carnival in 1987, Najib was reported to have unsheathed a keris, fondled it, and called for the keris to be soaked in Chinese blood: “Basahkan keris dengan darah orang Cina!” Around his heroic, yet oddly dumpling-shaped head, hung banners with intellectual slogans like “Mei 13 sudah bermula!”

Defenders of Najib may argue that Najib was merely posturing for political reasons, to climb the greasy pole of Umno. Aren’t those the worst reasons?

His allies may also point out that was 22 years ago, when Najib was a mere pup of 34. They may say he has matured since then, that Najib has become less of a hot head, less incendiary, that he has a less explosive temperament… that he is less likely to blow up issues nowadays.

Najib and Taib: Another Crackdown?

Of course, Najib remains weak, and is viewed with suspicion, even by many within Umno. He refuses to stand up to the charges of being involved in Altantuya Shaariibuu’s death, and will not address the 114 million Euros (RM550 million) of taxpayers’ money that went as a “commission” to a company controlled by his friend, Razak Baginda, in  the Amaris submarine deal.

In Najib’s speech to the recent Umno General Assembly, he announced, while shifting rapidly from one foot to the other, and staring at the microphone, that “sesungguhnya, fitnah adalah dosa yang lebih besar daripada membunuh” (slander is a greater sin than murder). If he follows this logic, using the ISA would be a small sin indeed.

It is entirely credible that, after taking power, Najib may follow his father Razak’s example, Mahathir’s and Taib’s too, of declaring some cooked-up emergency, and arresting his opponents. Taib will, of course, be happy to continue to use force to remove dissenters from land he needs for his cronies’ logging companies, oil palm plantations and hydro-electric dams, backed up by his big Umno brother from Peninsular Malaysia.

But more arrests and more violence, would only provide short-lived relief from their  eventual fate as despised ex-tyrants. If Najib and Taib resort to arrests in desperation, the disintegration of their stranglehold on Sarawak and Malaysia will only be speeded up.

People Power has come to Sarawak, and Malaysia. Makkal Sakti, Kuasa Rakyat, Kuasa Nyaa has arrived. “Strongmen” who remain trapped in the brutality repeated over and over in our nation’s history, and continue to threaten us with violence, will see that times have changed since 1987.



  1. Be prepared for Operasi lallang II

    Comment by tunabdulrazak — April 4, 2009 @ 11:19 PM | Reply

  2. we dont want SAINTS to be our leaders in this world we just want A Man who fear God- is that too much to ask from our politicians??? God I shed tears for the unjustice..God listen to my plea..

    Comment by Guest — April 4, 2009 @ 1:40 PM | Reply

  3. all I want to say that man who wasnt even dare to acknowledge his roots has brought so much division in this country. his return will only lead this country to perdition.
    a vote for BN will be a vote for him who personified racism.

    Comment by aca — April 4, 2009 @ 11:37 AM | Reply

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