Yesterday, 27 October, marked the 35th anniversary of Operation Lalang, when over a hundred Malaysians, comprising politicians, activists, educationists and a La Salle brother, Anthony Rogers, were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.
Besides these detentions, the authorities revoked the publishing licences of three newspapers.
Many still remember this black day in our history – a grim reminder of the profound mutilation in our society.
I have not met Br Rogers, but he called me one day after reading my Aliran article on V David, whom he knew from his days in the Kamunting Detention Centre.
A teacher friend of mine, the late James Gonzales, once described Br Rogers to me: “If you slap him on one cheek, he will offer you the other.” Such is the persona of this Lasallian Brother.
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Many who knew Br Rogers were shocked to hear of his detention, as he was not a prominent politician, social activist or champion of vernacular education. He had spoken nothing too controversial and sensitive for him to be targeted by the powers that be.
At the time of his detention, he was informed the government wanted to know more about the involvement of the Catholic Church in human development and social justice work.
Surely, if the authorities had wanted to know more about his work, they could have contacted him and he would have given them an in-depth explanation. If he was contravening the country’s laws, he should have been issued a warning, instead of being arrested.
Recalls the 73-year-old former brother director of Penang’s St Xavier’s Institution: “I was seen as a threat to national security because the Church brought together people of all faiths who have a passion for God to have compassion for their brothers and sisters. We were working towards helping Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, not trying to convert them.”
Prior to being detained in Petaling Jaya, Br Rogers was allowed to collect his personal items, like clothing and toiletries. He was surprised to be granted permission to take his Bible into his cell.
He told me he made friends with many politicians when he was detained.
One politician even asked him how he could be so cheerful under detention.
He replied with humour, “I am here for a vacation, but to you it’s a punishment.”
Some of the notable politicians detained along with him were Karpal Singh, V David, Lim Guan Eng, Mat Sabu, Mahfuz Omar and Khalid Samad.
Any painful experiences?
“The greatest pain was to see what all families went through when they came to visit. It was especially sad to see children coming to see their parents in Kamunting.”
Br Rogers did not encounter any bad experiences while in detention. In fact, he became friends with people of different faiths, and that was a gratifying experience for him.
Currently residing at St Xavier’s Institution, Br Rogers continues to raise awareness of socioeconomic justice.
He is also one of the three co-authors – the other two being scholar activists Dr Francis Loh and Dr Cecilia Ng – of The Xaverian Journey. The book is a chronicle of the founding, growth and progress of a Lasallian school in Penang from 1787 to 2019.
Br Rogers, an Aliran member, adds: “In 2022 looking back… what is clear in our minds and hearts as Malaysians is that it’s always darkest before the dawn!
“Those who have experienced pain and anguish nurture the surge of Hope that cannot be quenched. This is the proof of the resurgence of the sacred and the divine in the soul of the Human and in Humanity.
“God bless Malaysia.”
Today, 28 October, is the second anniversary of the passing of Cardinal Soter Fernandez, the first cardinal from Malaysia. At the time of his arrest, Br Rogers headed the church’s National Office for Human Development, which was under the auspices of Soter, the then Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur