Former political detainee and prisoner of conscience Said Zahari passes away

Said Zahari, an advocate of free media and political detainee, passed away today (12 Apr) at 12.30pm. “Innalillah, my father Said Zahari had passed away at 12.30 in the afternoon,” his son Norman announced the media icon’s passing in Facebook. The 88-year-old was struck with several strokes in recent years which immobilised him.

Said Zahari, also known as Pak Said, was labeled a ‘communist’ and detained by the government of Lee Kuan Yew for 17 years without trial. He holds the distinction of being the second longest-serving political detainee arrested under the Internal Security Act in Singapore after Chia Thye Poh.

In a documentary made by filmmaker Martyn See in 2006, Pak Said said that he was arrested during Operation Coldstore, a joint Singaporean-Malaysian operation to silence 117 opposition and union leaders of both countries.

In the documentary, Pak Said recounted the events that follows his election as chairman of Parti Rakyat Singapura on the night before Operation Coldstore. He details his subsequent detention where he was kept in solitary confinement for long period in poor condition and explicitly threatened with death if he did not choose to confess his alleged crimes and cooperate with the authority. Part of the film shows the media icon conversing with the interviewer in fluent Mandarin, which he was taught during his forced detention without trial by fellow Chinese educated detainees, who were in the majority.

[fvplayer src=””]The movie was banned in Singapore by the Board of Film Censors under the Films Act. The Board said that the documentary “gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act in 1963”, and prohibited its possession and distribution.

Pak Said a Singapore citizen, was granted permanent residency in Malaysia to join his family there by then prime minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Amnesty International recognizes Pak Said as a former “prisoner of conscience.”

Political exile Tan Wah Piow mourned the death of Pak Said and referred to him as “the intellectual role model of my generation”.

A ppem from Said Zahari, written soon after his arrest on 2nd Feb 1963.
A ppem from Said Zahari, written soon after his arrest on 2nd Feb 1963.