Flashback #Star50: Crackdown in one fell swoop


Nabbed: The Star’s front page on Oct 28, 1987 with pictures of 17 of the 19 arrested under the now-defunct ISA.Nabbed: The Star’s front page on Oct 28, 1987 with pictures of 17 of the 19 arrested under the now-defunct ISA.

IT was a swoop, the likes of which the country had not seen before.

Ops Lalang was a crackdown on politicians, academics, social activists, students and others under the now-defunct Internal Security Act (ISA).

It began after 19 people were arrested on Oct 27,1987.

By late November of that year, 106 people had been nabbed under ISA while three newspapers – The Star, Sin Chew Daily and Watan – were shut down.

These dailies were allowed to resume in March 1988, but Watan eventually ceased publication in 1996.

The operation took place against a politically charged backdrop.

It was argued that the police had to eventually move in to reduce racial tension.

However, some of the victims blamed the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the sweep.

In a blog post on Nov 1,2017, Dr Mahathir said it was the police who had insisted on upholding the law, adding, however, that he took responsibility for the arrests.

“I accept the blame even though the detention was not my decision, ” Dr Mahathir said, expressing his regret that some of the detainees had been subjected to torture.

The ISA, introduced in 1960 in the wake of an armed insurgency by the Communist Party of Malaya, gave police wide-ranging powers to detain suspects indefinitely.

Under the ISA, police could detain a suspect for up to two years after obtaining the consent of the Home Minister.

In September 2011, the government announced that it would rescind the Emergency ordinances, repeal the Restricted Residence and Banishment Acts and institute new laws, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) and National Harmony Acts to replace the Internal Security and Sedition Acts respectively.

The Dewan Rakyat passed the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill in April 2012.

The law was gazetted and came into force on June 22,2012.

Among others, it outlined additional measures for the police in dealing with security such as terrorism, human trafficking and organised crime.

It also stipulated the powers to arrest, the period under detention, and the right to extend the detention period.

In conjunction with our 50th anniversary, we take a look back at historic moments and personalities. See more here: bit.ly/star50flashback

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