KUALA LUMPUR: Thirty years ago, while other children were learning nursery rhymes in kindergartens, Tania Fernandez was becoming familiar with phrases like “detention without trial”.
The daughter of late human rights activist Irene Fernandez, recalled how she was only six years old when she became part of a group that supported families of those detained in Operasi Lalang, launched on Oct 27, 1987.
She said she remembered a warm atmosphere among the people who considered each other as family when she went along with her mother to the gatherings.
“One song that stuck with me and still means a lot to me today is ‘We Shall Overcome’,” she said at an event organised by Suaram to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operasi Lalang at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall here today.
Tania said she found it unfortunate that the state of human rights and civil liberties in Malaysia is as dire today as it was back then.“Thirty years later and nothing has changed,” she said, adding that it was up to the younger generation to make a stand and change things for the better.
“We weren’t on the front lines back then but now is the time we have to come out and make a difference,” she said.
“All of us must realise that the election is coming and now’s the time for us to change things.”
Operasi Lalang, also known as Ops Lalang, saw 106 people, including civil society activists, NGO leaders, opposition politicians, intellectuals and student activists detained without trial under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) while Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister.
Among the more prominent detainees were then DAP secretary-general Lim Kit Siang, DAP deputy chairman Karpal Singh, MCA vice-president and Perak chief Chan Kit Chee, PAS Youth chief Halim Arshat, Umno’s Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali, and Umno Youth Education chairman Mohamed Fahmi Ibrahim.
Other prominent non-political detainees included Dong Jiao Zong chairman Lim Fong Seng, Civil Rights Committee publicity chief Kua Kia Soong, and Women’s Aid Organisation member Irene Xavier.