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Remembering Said Zahari, Patriot and Freedom Fighter, "Champion of press freedom"

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By: Tan Jee Say

The name may not be familiar to most Singaporeans today but he was a giant in the fight for freedom and social justice in Singapore in the 1950s and early 1960s. He passed away in Malaysia in April 2016. Said Zahari was fondly remembered by many who knew him at a memorial meeting on Saturday 4 June 2016.
He was a “mentor, comrade, friend, kindred soul”. He was locked away for 17 years without trial from 1963 when he was arrested together with 131 other freedom fighters under “Operation Coldstore” on allegations of being pro-communist subversives. But with the release of British national archives, the whole world now knows that there was no evidence to prove the allegations.

At the time of his arrest, Said was editor of Utusan Melayu, a popular Malay newspaper, who refused to be used as a propaganda tool of the ruling party UMNO. He had organised a strike of journalists in protest.
On the day of his arrest, he had been elected president of Party Rakyat, a Malay political party which was preparing to contest the general election held later in the year.
The sufferings that he and his family went through during the 17 years of his detention, are well documented in the special publication prepared for the memorial meeting, including a “human interest story” chapter by a non-political colleague from the Times group.
1For all these sufferings, he did not show any bitterness towards his tormentor except to describe Lee Kuan Yew as a vindictive man. He could easily end his sufferings by agreeing to work for The Straits Times, a condition set by the authority. But he did not, for to do so would go against all that he stood for and for which he led the strike by editorial staff at Utusan and sacrificed his illustrious career.
His refusal to work for the Straits Times resonated with me for I too declined to do so despite being asked by the highest authority not once but three times. Said Zahari did not sell his soul. He will surely rest in peace.
Farewell our hero freedom fighter and champion of press freedom.
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