“It was in 1961 that Tok, then editor-in-chief of Utusan Melayu, led the 100-day Utusan strike in protest of UMNO’s attempt to takeover the newspaper…”

May 27, 2018


“It was in 1961 that Tok, then editor-in-chief of Utusan Melayu, led the 100-day Utusan strike in protest of UMNO’s attempt to takeover the newspaper…”

Cerita Undi by Shirin Roesman.


Congratulations Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
Congratulations Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim
Congratulations Pakatan Harapan

The beginning of a new era is before us.

Posthumous congratulations to my late Tok, Said Zahari or fondly known as Pak Said, whose fight for an independent newspaper and press freedom which began in 1961, may be finally realised with the formation of our new government. May Utusan Melayu regain its independence and integrity as the peoples’ voice.

It was in 1961 that Tok, then editor-in-chief of Utusan Melayu, led the 100-day Utusan strike in protest of UMNO’s attempt to takeover the newspaper – the first ever act of defiance against any control of the media and for freedom of the press. In the midst of the strike, he was declared persona non grata and was barred from entering Malaya by executive order, by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was also Foreign Minister then. This restriction was only lifted when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister.

Meanwhile in Singapore, at an extraordinary central committee meeting, Partai Rakyat Singapura (PRS) had proposed Tok to take on the leadership responsibility as its President. Tok’s leadership of PRS was, however, short-lived.

It was in the early hours of Ramadhan on 2nd February 1963 that the Special Branch mounted Operation Cold Store, a code name for a covert security operation carried out in Singapore, which led to the arrest of Tok, along with over 100 other people, who were detained under the Preservation of Public Service Security Ordinance (PSSO). Special Branch officers together with a jeep-load of fully armed Gurkha soldiers raided Tok’s house that morning and took him away. “Sekejap aje…”, the Special Branch officers told my then 23 year old pregnant grandmother. That night never saw the light of day for the next 17 years. Lee Kuan Yew accused Tok of being a ‘communist’, an ‘intelligence agent’ (?!!?) and many other atrocious accusations were hurled at him to keep him behind bars. His detention order was ‘regularly’ extended for two years each time. They offered him release if he admitted to the accusations but my grandfather never budged. For 17 years.

Throughout the long and torturous 17 years, Nenek lived life without a husband who had been detained without trial, under ISA, by the Lee Kuan Yew regime. She was 6 months pregnant then and had 3 other small children. On 22 May 1963, almost 4 months after Tok’s arrest, my youngest aunt, Noorlinda, was born into a world, growing up without a father for the first 17 years of her life. I remember Nenek used to tell us how she would get furious and fight with the prison guards every Hari Raya visit, when specially prepared Hari Raya dishes for Tok would be squashed, poked into and stirred over and over for smuggled items; how arwah Auntie Ris was the writer in the family who would often write Tok long letters. Papa recalled an incident when they were chased out from their rented house for not being able to pay rent and how he would skip school to help Nenek sell nasi lemak, carrying huge pots of gravy and sambal onto the bus to the hawker centre in the wee hours of the morning. It was also during one of those difficult times in June 1968 that Nenek had to undergo mastectomy. Alone, without her husband by her side. Alhamdulillah, Nenek came out of the ordeal stronger and more resolute.

My grandmother was a ‘hero’.

My grandfather was a fighter – relentless, firm with a solid conscience and never once swayed nor did he cave in to make ‘crafted’ confessions to crimes he never committed, which could have enabled earlier release.

My father, the eldest child, was only 6. When Tok was finally released, he was 23 years old and was to get married to my mother the following year. Alhamdulillah, in 1990, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lifted the ban on Tok to enter Malaysia and that was when all of us, one after another, moved over to permanently put up here.

The last two nights, I thought of Tok and Nenek. The struggles they went through – one in prison and one outside. They were in fact both prisoners in their own rights. I thought of how Papa and his three siblings must have felt. I thought of how Nenek persevered throughout those years with her children by her side and Allah in her heart. Coincidentally, about 20 years ago, when the reform movement started in Malaysia, we had the pleasure of the company of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and family when they visited Tok and Nenek in Subang Jaya where we stayed.

These last few days were undeniably significant – proof that Allah acknowledges efforts and struggles, that He knows what is in our hearts and that no effort goes unnoticed. And as I thought of Tok and Nenek, their children were thinking of them too. In separate conversations held over the last couple of days, Papa was reminded of them and UMNO came to mind. It was then that Papa recalled how Tok and his fellow Utusan strikers had defied UMNO in their protracted 100-day strike. And it is not until today, 57 years later, under a new and transparent journalistic cloud, that Utusan together with other media, will potentially regain their ‘independence’. Last night, Uncle Nor said the same and this morning, it was Aunty Lin. I’m pretty sure Arwah Auntie Ris would have felt the same too.

This, was in one way, a cause which Tok unselfishly sacrificed and fought long and hard for, finally victorious. If there was any moment that we believe Tok had succeeded, this defining moment most definitely would be it! And he would have nodded in acknowledgement of this achievement.

This, was also the long struggle that Nenek persevered, battling with all her might and in the way that only my grandmother knew best.

This, was also their battle, won. Alhamdulillah.

Wallahi, only families of the incarcerated will know and understand. To Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah and YB Nurul Izzah, alhamdulillah. This is Allah’s gift for those long years of sabr and struggle that others will never, ever comprehend.

May Allah expiate the sins of Tok, Mohd Said Zahari; Nenek, Salamah Abdul Wahab and my auntie, Rismawati Mohd Said; grant them paradise in the highest levels of jannah, accept their struggles and efforts as ibaadah and place them amongst the righteous. Ameen.

Shirin Roesman
Cucu Pak Said / Anak Reformasi
Journalist/Sub-Editor 2002-2004
Retired Corporate Slave
Servant of Allah

Reference: Dark Clouds At Dawn, A Political Memoir – Said Zahari

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