Memali: A Policeman Remembers

September 29, 2011

Memali: A Policeman Remembers

by Din Merican

I have just returned from the Royal Lake Club, Kuala Lumpur where I was at a Book Launch. I was given the honour to emcee the occasion.

Memali: A Policeman Remembers is written by YM Tunku Muszaffar Shah, who was the OCPD Baling. Kedah from 1981-1986. Tunku Zain Al-Abidin, the founder of Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS),launched Memali the book.

Tunku Muszaffar’s book is a first hand account of a tragedy that continues to this day to haunt the conscience of law abiding and peace loving citizens. It promises to be a good read.

Why did the Police enter the village without firearms even when Bukit Aman was told by local intelligence personnel that the villagers were armed with machette and parangs and were willing to die to protect the leader, Ustaz Ibrahim Mahmood aka Ibrahim Libya?

Why were Policemen being asked to subject themselves to stupid risks. Why did the top brass in Bukit Aman ignore local intelligence? Why was the arresting party instructed to withdraw if the villagers resisted? In the ensuing encounter on November 19, 1985, what went wrong?  18 Malaysians were killed including Ibrahim Libya who had been using the Islamic cause as a front to help a group of politicians to seize power. This book attempts to answer these questions and more.

In browsing through the book this morning after the launch, I read  the Afterword by Senator YM Tunku Abdul Aziz bin Tunku Ibrahim. I wish to highlight two issues.

One, it was common knowledge then and now that  (Tun) Musa Hitam was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs responsible for internal security and public order. His order to avoid any spilling of blood but why was the order ignored by those “bemedalled armchair warriors” in Bukit Aman (Tunku Aziz)?

Yes, why? Tan Sri Amin Osman, then the Acting Inspector General of Police, should answer this question.  According to Tunku Aziz:

“[T]he Royal Malaysian Police leadership must live up to the core principle of policing, and that is to protect life and property. It must not allow itself to be used as a political tool and thereby prostitute and compromise its tradition values of service in the public interest…The Memali incident is a good example of what could go wrong when the Police allow themselves to take operational orders from politicians. Policing and politics somehow do not mix well. They make stranger bedfellows.”(p.157)

Two, where was (Tun) Dr. Mahathir, a Kedahan admired by his country folks, when the Memali tragedy happened. I thought he was abroad visiting some country , perhaps on  a study mission. Wrong.  According to Tunku Aziz:

 “… Musa Hitam had to carry the blame for the massacre at Memali. Mahathir, who once berated Israel for fighting its wars by proxy, was himself not averse to letting others do the  dirty work for him. Mahathir the maverick is well known for his disappearing acts whenever an unpopular decision had  to be implemented.

On this particular occasion, it was put about at his behest that he was not in the country. He was in the country and was apprised  of developments by Musa Hitam and Mohamad Amin. Both pleaded with him not to leave on his official visit to China as the security and public order situation in Memali was looking decidedly dicey and dangerous.He was reminded by Musa that Kedah was, after all, his home state. Mahathir insisted that he had to go because the Chinese had made arrangements to receive him. So much for his sense of his public duty. When it came to getting out of a sticky situation, he knew all the dodges.”(p.156)

pg 156, Memali: A Policeman Remembers by Tunku Muszaffar Shah Bin Tunku Ibrahim.

After 26 years it is timely to reflect on Memali and come out with an unbiased account of the tragedy. The ball is in the government’s court.

September 29, 2011

OCPD:Bukit Aman made poor decisions in Memali

by Andrew Ong@
Sep 29, 11

A former district Police Chief involved in the Memali incident suggested that Bukit Aman national Police Headquarters had made poor decisions in its bid to arrest so-called militant PAS leader Ibrahim Mahmood, better known as Ibrahim Libya.NONEFormer Baling district police chief Tunku Muszaffar Shah Tunku Ibrahim (left), in his book ‘Memali: A Policeman Remembers‘, said the poor decision-making was the result of political interference and underestimation of the tenacity of Ibrahim’s followers. The bloody incident on Nov 19, 1985 resulted in the death of Ibrahim, 13 of his followers and four police personnel, after a second botched attempt to arrest him under the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960.Muszaffar wrote that the top officers in Bukit Aman should never take orders from their “political masters” and reject requests that are not in line with police norms or procedures.

“The discretion and action of the police as to how they would go about doing their duty should be according to prevailing ground situations,” he wrote.

Musa Hitam’s Order

At the time, the Police were under the charge of Musa Hitam in his capacity as Home Minister. Dr Mahathir Mohamad was then the Prime Minister during the incident.

According to the White Paper tabled in Parliament in February 1986, the government justified attempts to arrest Ibrahim under the ISA by accusing him of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Movement which aims to topple the federal government by force.

NONEAlthough Muszaffar did not document any examples of political interference, he did note that Musa had issued specific orders during the first botched arrest attempt on September 2, 1984.

In the book, Muszaffar said Musa had ordered Bukit Aman to ensure that the arresting party did not use force when arresting Ibrahim and withdraw should they encounter resistence.

Led by the district special branch chief, the arresting party went to Ibrahim’s home in Kampung Charok Puteh at 2.45am on that day, but withdrew after they were met by about a dozen people armed with sharpened bamboo poles and other weapons.

According to then Ibrahim follower Muhamad Yusof Husin’s account of the incident, which forms a chapter of the book, the botched first arrest attempt led to followers deciding to guard him from arrest.

Educating future commanders

Muszaffar also criticised then Bukit Aman leaders, including the then-acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP), who was not named, for underestimating the resistance which Ibrahim’s supporters would put up.

Attempts by a large police delegation to arrest Ibrahim at his home in November 1985 saw supporters attacking the police with firearms and sharp weapons, before the charismatic preacher was killed.

In the book, he described such superior officers as “armchair generals” who saw it fit to arrest Ibrahim at his bastion, knowing that his supporters were waiting and some of them had shotgun licences.

Speaking to reporters after the book launch at the Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur, Muszaffar said that his first-person account of the incident was an attempt to educate future police officers. He stressed that his account does not contradict the White Paper, which was also reproduced in full in his book.

“My book might upset some people but my purpose is to educate the young police commanders not to repeat the mistakes,” he said.

He said that he began the book project in 2009 after being heavily persuaded by his elder brother Tunku Aziz, who is the former vice-chairperson of Transparency International and now DAP vice-chairperson.

30 thoughts on “Memali: A Policeman Remembers

  1. “I have just returned for the Royal Lake Club.”
    “Why did the Police enter the village without firearms even Bukit Aman was told …”
    “Why were Policemen were being asked to subject themselves to stupid risks. ”

    Nothing fatal. I enjoy reading your blog.
    Thanks, Don. It was sloppy on my part. I have corrected the above.–Din Merican

    we are all of 1 Race, the Human race

  2. Political interference in the operational aspects of police action in what is purely a public security situation? I’m surprised the military wasn’t called in. Over here the National Guards would have been called in.
    Mongkut Bean,
    Do you know or remember Amin Osman? He is a director of Genting Highlands. He is from Kedah. I first met Amin when we were preparing our case against Indonesia for TNI landings in Pontian, Johor during confrontation. Tun Dr. Ismail was leading the Malaysian team to the United Nations. Another well known Kedahan in the Force was Dato Mansor (Chot).–Din Merican

  3. That’s the difference between the Army and the Police; the former will always stick to the set S.O.P.s and remain consistent when they are involved in any operations but the latter sometimes has to bow to political pressures!

    Best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

  4. Mat Sabu may want to call Ibrahim Libya a national hero. I wonder how Ibrahim got his Libya? Was he living in Ghadafi’s Libya and owed his defiance to authority from the Libyan leader now ousted from power? Misfits in their own community, unable to find their calling at home, some Malay students would take this less trodden path to places like Pakistan and Yemen and return home to radicalize followers.

    To them the fate of Malay farmers, rubber tappers and rural poverty are convenient issues. Their agenda is finally the country into an Islamic State.

  5. The military was not called because the Memali incident was a ‘Public Order’ matter, a civilian matter, and not a military matter unlike the Al Maunah case that happened in 2000 where national security was threatened.

    Best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

  6. “So much for his sense of his public duty. When it came to getting out of a sticky situation, he knew all the dodges”–Tunku Aziz on Mahathir.

    The Malays call him Ayahanda Tun, although he is responsible all that is happening today with our system of governance. Mahathir is irresponsible and reckless. Yet, some kiss the very ground he walks on. I can understand that as far as his cronies are concerned. But the ordinary Malays are also doing the same. That means Melayu bukan mudah lupa. Melayu bodoh. Kena tipu oleh Mahathir pun tak apa.

  7. “Both pleaded with him not to leave on his official visit to China as the security and public order situation in Memali was looking decidedly dicey and dangerous.He was reminded by Musa that Kedah was, after all, his home state. Mahathir insisted that he had to go because the Chinese had made arrangements to receive him, ”

    On this, Mahathir’ decision to visit China was correct. What is the point of having IGP, Home Ministry and DPM if they cannot use their brain and must take order from PM?.

    Foreign visit is not walking into mamak store and shouting teh tarik satu. We cannot blame Mahathir just because he was not around.
    Tean, are you sure Mahathir was abroad at the time of Memali? Have you checked the immigration records. Or could it have been erased? I have no reason to disbelieve Tunku Aziz whose source of information on this is impeccable. Otherwise, he would not commit himself in print. I don’t get your logic. I know for a fact that Mahathir does not delegate. He has his hand in every pie,that is he micromanages.–Din Merican

  8. This Memali incident was not the first time Musa Hitam took the flak. In 1975 when Anwar Ibrahim was raising the heat among students in the University of Malaya campus because of food shortages in Baling and Sik PM Tun Ab Razak asked his Press Secretary Ahmad Mustapha Hassan to call Dr Mahathir, then Minister of Education, to take action to quell the unrest in the university campus. Ahmad in his semi-autobiography ‘The Unmaking of Malaysia’ says that ‘it became abundantly clear to me that the Prime Minister was unhappy with the way his Minister of Education was tackling the problems associated with the student unrests.’
    Ahmad continues ‘he adopted the “no action” policy, hoping that the problem would either go away or become less serious.’

    When the situation got worse Tun Abd Razak then asked Ahmad and Musa Hitam to go to Sik and Baling to resolve the problems there. It was in one of the schools in Sik, while they were surrounded by angry peasants and students who were also throwing stones at them, that Musa showed how tact and diplomacy could defuse a dangerous tense situation. Musa also solved the problem in Baling. At that site the agent provocateur was none other than Uztaz Nakhae Ahmad, then a PAS stalwart.

    It was obvious from the incidents in Kedah that Tun Abd Razak had more faith in Musa, from Johore, rather than in Mahathir who is from Kedah in solving major problems affecting students and farmers..

    It is not surprising to note that only after Tun Abdullah Badawi became PM that Musa became a Tun. Ahmad Mustapha Hassan also noted that students at tertiary level have had their movements and rights progressively curtailed ever since Mahathir came to power. Thanks and no thanks to Anwar Ibrahim!

    So there you have it – strategic retreat or better still, strategic invisibility.Saya tak mudah lupa.

  9. Foreign visit is not walking into mamak store and shouting teh tarik satu. We cannot blame Mahathir — tean

    Foreign trip to China is walking up to Mama-san and ask “Itu Ah Moi dulu punya sudah mali kaa??”

  10. The Malays call him Ayahanda Tun, although he is responsible all that is happening today with our system of governance. Mahathir is irresponsible and reckless-mat dulu UMNO aka chendol

    YES, the Malays today got to ask themselves hard, Why are they still seeing this KUTTY-SUPREMO aka Mahathir as a a Malay “god”, a saviour of the Malays and the answer to all the Malay problems, when he was and stil is responsible for the dividing the Malays, dividing Malays and non Muslims and responsible for the crony-infested and corrupt government we have today?

    The Malays are easily bought for a 10 cent appeal on their racial insecurity.

    Malays would run to people like Ibrahim Ali the moment they hear that Melayu akan hilang d-dunia or the pendatangs are stealing the country underneath their feet.

    And if people like Kutty Supremo and Ibrahim Ali say the pendatangs are saying bad about Islam, the Malays would RUN AMOK.

    Yes, the Malays must seriously review their own minds, or go to see a head-shrinker why are they still looking up to Mahathir as a Malay ‘god’ and Ibrahim Ali as a Malay “holy saint”?

  11. National security of Malaysia have been jeapordized by the civil servants who bow to the political masters. Imagine if the civil servants in NRD, Immigration and EC had not collaborated with UMNO/BN you will not have this quick and rampant citizenship and electoral fraud. If at the very secured NRD, Immigration and EC you have civil servants willing to commit fraud where is the integrity of the documents being issued. The integrity of MyKad, Malaysian Passport and Electoral Register are all open to question.

    The civil servants are the last bastion for the security and integrity of the nation. If they willingly sell out to BN/UMNO for a few ringgit who is there left to ensure that documents issued by the Malaysian government are secured and safe. That’s why Malaysians face difficulties at point of entry into the US. US Immigration doubt the integrity of the Malaysian Passports and Malaysian citizens are always under close scrutiny. Not only those with Muslim names even Malaysians with Chinese and Indian names are subject to extra scrutiny. It’s not the person but the document.

    Memali and Bersih 2.0 are classic examples of Malaysian civil servants bowing to the politicians in carrying out their duties.

  12. Dato Mansor or Ayah Chot is still around somewhere in Section 22, Very old and ill. Hardly ever go out. His son is a top police officer in Bukit Aman.
    No news about Tan Sri Amin.

  13. The civil servants are the last bastion for the security and integrity of the nation — webelos

    Last bastion?

    At the very core of our parliamentary system based on the Westminster Model of parliamentary democracy is a neutral civil service. The importance of the doctrine of civil service neutrality cannot be overemphasized. Yet the first thing Mahathir did when he took over as PM was to show them who’s boss. He made all civil servants clock-in and clock-out and force senior officers including his Cabinet Ministers wear name tags, making some of them look like the Japanese Kempetei and factory managers. What a disgrace.

    If there was any one man who should be blamed for the loss of civil service neutrality, that man is Mahathir Mohammad. He single- handedly destroyed an institution.

  14. Clocking in and out is fine. When I was working in Sulaiman Building Malaysia my DG always watch the windows leading to the cafeteria. He will note what time an employee goes for coffee and what time he returns. He walks the floor each morning to see who is at their desk. Tardiness not entertained. By the way he’s a mat salleh.
    Name tag is also fine. Many civil servants are rude to the public but with a name tag he/she is identified easily. What made Che Det do all that is because Malaysian civil servants were slacking and always tuang. Remember Lat’s cartoon about the 2M.
    But the Federal Establishment Office was very much independent and all interviews and appointment were done by Public Services Commission. Later with Ahmad Sarji, the civil service became subservient to the political masters. BTN instilled that BN is government and government is BN, no separation between political government and administrative government. Yes Che Det was responsible for destroying the civil service and making it into what it is today, issuing MyKad to undeserving people, erasing Immigration records and framing innocent public.

  15. “Malays had become disenchanted with UMNO’s politics of corruption”. So what has changed? Little did Malaysians or the Malays know that, in 1985, that was only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the corrupt body-politic was just below the surface, and boy, did it rear its ugly head that now threatens to sink this nation.

    But the thing is don’t people ever learn. Even when they were disenchanted (I love the choice of word; one should be outraged, incensed, pissed at corruption in whatever form, not disenchanted) way back in 1985, have things changed for the better?

    Whether Mahathir was in or out of the country or did not wan’t to offend the Chinese is irrelevant. Musa and the rest were in charge. They were paid to do a job and yet sought to find the easy way out by deferring to the boss. This attitude is typically Malaysian – enjoy the perks of office but leave the responsibility to others. Obviously Musa has not been able to shed this skin of incompetence even today as evidenced by the Sime Darby fiasco. Pity Mahathir did not just give him das boot on the spot for trying to weasel his way out of a testing situation.

    As for Tunku Muszaffar’s plaintive hope to “educate the young police commanders not to repeat the mistake”, I’m afraid it is a little too little too late. Every IGP since then has fallen over each other in the race to please their UMNO masters. Even if it meant carrying semen-stained mattresses on the way up.

    And, Semper FI, as for Ahmad Sarji…the less said the better. Looks like incompetency and sycophancy has its rewards.

  16. Mr Bean wrote…

    “Misfits in their own community, unable to call their calling at home, some malay students….”

    Then, what are you doing in New York, Mr Bean??

    Your Kerbaus are in Kedah and Malaysia.

  17. “Misfits in their own community, unable to find their calling at home, some Malay students would take this less trodden path to places like Pakistan and Yemen and return home to radicalize followers.”

    Lu ta tau cut and paste. Banyiak boloh punyia olang.

  18. Mr Bean “Melayu Baru” and ensuring “Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia” that’s why he’s in New York. Mr Bean wasn’t a misfit and didn’t take the less trodden path but rather a pioneering spirit taking on the new world. It’s just that Malaysia wasn’t ready for Bean so he’s in a holding pattern till Malaysia catches up. Anyway Bean also plans on riding a kerbau puteh. Any kerbau puteh in Malaysia?

  19. I asked a very senior retired police officer who was also a former Selangor state police chief in the 90s about the Memali incident and he said that it is unthinkable for a police officer and his men to enter that village without firearms after knowing that the villagers were armed with machette and parangs.

    So, either that police officer who entered the village without firearms after knowing that the villagers were armed with machette and parangs did it because he wanted to do it that way or he was just a stupid police officer.

    Police and Military SOPs cannot be overruled by anyone, not even the King, much less the PM or the IGP.

    If I were that police officer, I will obey the orders of my superior instructing me and my men to enter the village but, we will enter the village armed, as per stated in the SOP.

    If it was true that the orders came from a senior politician, the PM even, to my superior, I will ignore it. Later, if I am charged for disobeying orders, I can get a redress and if I had to be charged in court or court-martialed for that, I am not worried at all because I know I will win the case and my superior officer who gave me that order will be charged, found guilty and punished. Maybe, by doing what I did above, i.e., entering the village armed, as per stated in the SOP, no one will be killed.

    Best regards.

    Hussaini Abdul Karim

  20. What seems to have gone wrong?
    Yes, arm chair generals!
    These are plentiful in our nation..

    Same story with Al-Maunah..
    Just different place and time…
    Horrid stories still untold…

    Maybe one day the truth will come out….
    And we all know whose dirty hands were involved….
    U may think we forget…

    It is probably the same dirty HANDS all over again!

  21. Hussaini Abdul Karim,

    Well said. Uniformed personnel have to follow their SOPs, not taking orders from idiotic politicians sitting safely in an air cond room somewhere in the secured corner of Klang Valley.

  22. What triggered or made the government decided so drastically on Ibrahim Libya’s Memali was not being truthfully told by Musa. As Menteri KDN, he must have known better about the country’s atmosphere at that time.

    My family lived in Balai Polis Baling and I had just worked in Sg.Way FTZ, when it happened. My sisters told me how, families living in the Police station 2 (quarters) block were very-very afraid, the afternoon after that massacre. About a hundred army personnel surrounded the Police station fence and were very-very angry with the drastic action by the Police. You know la…how things were between them in the mid-70s ~ late 80s. Many died at cabaret-brawls, especially at month’s end in Ipoh. And….that was why military personnel’s salary was paid before the 25th. till today….to minimize encounters.

    Did Musa mention about him flying in a helicopter, landed at ‘Padang-Jam’ or clock-tower, near the Mosque, just beside the Police Station to diffuse that tense military siege? The soldiers, even armed themselves by with a V150 armored personnel carrier.

    Why the need to hastily stormed villagers, armed with parangs and a few ‘tembak-tupai’ shotgun?

    Why can’t the Police wait? (They enter the village at about mid-night and the ‘operation’ ended at dawn). What’s the hurry?

    The Army was not even informed….. To fight the communist, their help was very much sought, but against the helpless ‘orang-kampung’, the Police seems very capable. This made the Army, stationed in Kroh (now Pengkalan Hulu), very pissed.

    Let me tell you why KDN under Musa hastily stormed Memali… a covert operation to neutralize racial antagonism between Chinese & Malay, heightened especially by the press. Situation was very tense then. KL was alteady deserted. Factories in Sg. Way have stopped production due to operators, mainly females were afraid to go to work or their parents forbade them to ride Mini Buses No.33, through KL via SS222, Sg. Way to FIZ. I forgot what caused the hostility, but the next day after Memali… all newspapers immediately switched their report to Memali. Radio and TV played patriotic songs…’jangan dengar khabar-khabar’, etc, just like the aftermath of May 13, 1969.

    Its the same during ‘Amok Prebet Adam’ in Chow Kit, October 1987. At that time it was over posting of Malay teachers in SRJKC. Lee Kim Sai was stripped-of his Dato’ship and Ops Lalang ensued, 2 weeks later. Hence the Government should thank Adam for what he had unknowingly done to ‘save’ the country from another racial strife.

    Therefore, Memali incident was a ploy by KDN to diffuse communal tension at that time. I can remember it because, the factory where I worked had to shut-down that day and I hurried home to be with my younger brother, living with me in a rented room. I’m afraid that he went loitering, somewhere dangerous.
    Musa Hitam is an UMNO politician who is trying to be a statesman in the winter of his years. He has lapses in memory (and I am being generous here). I do not take him seriously and if I may suggest you should ignore him.–Din Merican

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