Karpal Singh’s arrest 31 years ago in Operasi Lalang  

THE DAY THE WORLD CHANGED FOR THESE FOLKS: The Star front cover on 28 Oct 1987 before it was banned for five months. Politician and lawyer Karpal Singh (top row, extreme right) was one of those detained in the swoop

Exactly 31 years ago, Malaysian legendary politician Karpal Singh was one of the 106 people detained without trial in Operasi Lalang during the premeirship of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. 

This was the front-page of The Star on 28 Oct 1987, the day after the people were picked up under the Internal Security Act (ISA). For the next five months, the English daily along with Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan was banned from publication.

In May 2018, Dr Mahathir returned as prime minister under the Pakatan Harapan coalition, a most unthinkable coalition just some years ago as he has teamed up with the very politician and NGO leaders that had been detained under his watch.

They included Lim Kit Siang, the then Opposition leader from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and his son Lim Guan Eng who is today the finance minister.

Three of Karpal’s children are elected lawmakers in the current government, including Gobind Singh Deo who is the Minister of Communications and Multimedia. 

His eldest brother Jagdeep Singh Deo is a Penang state assemblyman and an executive councillor in the Penang state government. He was featured in Asia Samachar yesterday for the soft launch of a Sikh crematorium.

Karpal’s third son, Ramkarpal succeeded him as the MP for Bukit Gelugor after his death in a motor-vehicle accident on 17 April 2014. Karpal’s daughter Sangeet Kaur works in his law firm and is also involved in the DAP.

Born in Penang to Sikh Punjabi Indian immigrant parents, Karpal studied law at the National University of Singapore. He was one of Malaysia’s most prominent lawyers and took a number of high-profile cases, including drug-trafficking charges against foreign nationals and sodomy accusations against former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Karpal was an opponent of the death penalty, especially for drug trafficking.

A 2005 motor-vehicle accident put Karpal in a wheelchair, with neuro-motor problems in his right arm, but he continued his legal and political careers.


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