After Ops Lallang: the voice of silence. . .
Tales of the Dark Days – VI
Operation Lallang, the newspaper shutdowns and the aftermath
• The day of the dictator
• Those black days when the Star was shut down
• Playing the game of Risk in journalism
• Tunku’s lament, then off in search of jobs
• A personal silver lining
• How the Star newsroom culture changed
By Bob Teoh
26 September 2008
Shortly after Operation Lalang began in October 1987, I lost my well-paying job as country correspondent for a regional publication, for reasons unknown to me. My only consolation was that it was much better than to be under the barbaric Internal Security Act as some of my unfortunate friends were.
There was no newspaper who would take me in. So I became an advertising cavasser on commission. Three years later, like many who saw no more future in our country, I landed up in Australia.
After our only child completed her studies and began working six years later, my wife and I decided to return to our birthplace, for good.
It took a while before I returned to journalism. My mother-in-law, was concerned. “Remember, this is not your country, so be careful what you write,” she told in a caring manner.
This was understandable as she is truly a pendatang (immigrant) as was my father-in-law. But both sides of my family have been here for generations as Peranakan. I am here to stay. That’s my birthright.
But after 21 years, we are hearing the same threatening voices again. We live in fear under the shadow of the ISA*.
I am reminded of a poem First They Came… attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), which speaks of the silence of German intellectuals when the Nazis rose to power and purged their chosen targets, group after group.
It takes not only a brave heart but also the wisdom of Solomon to discern the right season, so that in speaking up, our voices would not be silenced by forces of evil.
Bob Teoh was a reporter with The Star and Business Times, and an active unionist as general secretary of the National Union of Journalists. After Operation Lallang he moved to Australia. He returned to Malaysia and was editor of Sin Chew Daily’s English-language web site MySinchew. He now does social work in Kalimantan.
*A new law, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, replaced the Internal Security Act on July 31 this year.