KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — Claiming to have been maligned in the mainstream media and by pro-Umno bloggers over the film “Tanda Putera”, the DAP’s parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang has taken to YouTube to recount his version of events surrounding the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969 — one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history that is still shrouded in secrecy.
In the past few weeks, Lim Kit Siang’s political enemies have accused him of instigating the May 13 riots that took place 43 years ago after hype over local filmmaker Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba’s latest movie — a historical portrayal of Malaysia’s first two prime ministers amid the racial bloodbath — went into overdrive.
A photograph posted on the film’s Facebook page and its controversial caption painted Lim — then a budding politician in the DAP — as being arrested for desecrating the national flag by urinating on it, triggering an outcry from the Ipoh-Timor federal lawmaker and his colleagues in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition pact.
Lim has threatened to sue the filmmakers for defamation. But faced with repeated attacks over what he says is an inaccurate retelling of history, he has decided to mount his own defence through a six-part series of short interviews broadcast on popular video-sharing site, YouTube.
The video clips (https://www.youtube.com/user/roketkinidotcom), produced by the DAP’s publication unit, Roketkini.com, were first uploaded on August 12. In them, Lim narrates his experience of events leading up to and surrounding May 13, 1969.
In the first clip, he refutes allegations that he was in the national capital when the riots first broke out, relating that the closest to Kuala Lumpur he was before the ill-fated date was neighbouring Petaling Jaya, where he had returned from Malacca to rest after a punishing night of awaiting the results of the May 10, 1969 general elections.
“On May 11, 12, 13, I was never in Kuala Lumpur,” Lim said, adding that he had then headed back to Malacca where he had thanked supporters before flying out to Sabah for another round of party work in the country’s easternmost state.
Lim related that he first heard there were “troubles in Kuala Lumpur” on the night of May 13 at around 7pm, while giving s speech in Kota Kinabalu.
He also debunked allegations that he was a important DAP leader at the time, saying he held the position of secretary in the organisation and editor of party paper The Rocket, but said he felt few knew his role as the then national political landscape was filled with labour and socialist giants like former trade union secretary-general V. David and Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon, the leading opposition figure in Parliament from 1964 to 1978.
“I feel that in general, there were few who knew who I was,” Lim said in the interview.
In subsequent video clips, Lim recounted his activities while in Sabah on May 14, where he was approached by a group of immigration officials to be deported from the state on the next flight but had to spend an additional night there as he missed the plane.
“I was informed by the police that I was lucky because there were some people who were angry with me because of my speech at the get-together the previous night and wanted to come and take action against me. That was on May 14, so I had to spend another night in Kota Kinabalu,” he said.
“On the 15th, the police took me into custody so I would not miss the next plane out,” he said and then related that the plane he had boarded was redirected to land at the Singapore airport due to a curfew in force at Subang.
I feel that in general, there were few who knew who I was [at the time]. — Lim Kit Siang
He said he spent the next two days in Singapore and even held a press conference there after learning that he may be detained under the much-feared Internal Security Act (ISA).
“We said we were willing to work with the government to restore peace and tranquillity to the country. We all loved the country and should cooperate to face the unfortunate events that had occurred,” he said.
Lim narrated that party colleagues and his family had warned him to stay away from Kuala Lumpur but he was adamant on returning because he felt a responsibility to voters who had elected him as their representative, and that he had kept his homecoming a secret from his wife.
“They advised me against returning because my name was in the black list and I would certainly be arrested under the Internal Security Act,” Lim said.
In a rare account, the veteran politician also opened up a little about his fears and his private life, narrating how he had informed party colleagues that he would meet them in Ipoh unless he was detained under the ISA.
He also recalled mailing a postcard to his wife while in Singapore.
“It was an unusual experience — I remember sending a postcard to my wife to tell her that if something should happen, that she would understand because we didn’t know what to expect. But until now she has yet to receive the postcard. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it’s in the file of the Special Branch,” he said, referring to the police intelligence unit.
Lim recounted his tense return on May 17 to the Malaysian capital city, where armed policemen awaited his arrival at the Subang airport.
He remembered asking, “Are you waiting for me?”
And then being taken in a car to the Jalan Bandar police station, where along the way said he saw scenes of carnage — cars overturned and set alight on the roads.
“I told myself, if they took me somewhere and finished me, no one would know. But luckily that didn’t happen,” Lim said in the video clip, before relating his first detention under the ISA where he was spent close to 60 days locked-up in a cell in Kuala Selangor before being “officially detained” at the Muar detention camp.
“Tanda Putera” has not been released for cinema screenings yet, but a trailer of the film available on the internet has also sparked controversy because it appears to suggest the Chinese community was to blame for the riots.
Pesona Pictures Sdn Bhd, the producer of the movie, has defended the publication of Lim’s photograph which sparked widespread condemnation from the DAP parliamentary leader and his political colleagues.
Lim has repeatedly pointed out that he was only a young politician in 1969 and was not even in the federal capital during the riots.
Umno blogs have gone into overdrive, and have been pushing the message to voters that it was Lim who had sparked the riots.
Earlier this year, an administrator of the “Tanda Putera” social network fan page posted a photograph of Lim being “manhandled”, with a caption alleging it was taken after he urinated on the flagpole in the Selangor mentri besar’s residential compound in Kuala Lumpur before the May 13 riots.
The picture was removed last month after personal attacks and threats were allegedly made against the cast and crew of the film.