Said Zahari



Said Zahari (b. 18 May 19281, Singapore–d. 12 April 2016, Malaysia) was a writer, journalist and former political detainee.2 After working as a journalist and editor at the Utusan Melayu newspaper in the 1950s, he entered politics in the 1960s.3 Said was arrested in 1963, accused of involvement in a communist plot and spent the next 17 years in detention.4 He was released on 22 August 1979, and later published two memoirs.5

Early life
Said was the fourth child of Zahari and Asmah.6 His father Zahari, originally from Java, passed away soon after Said’s birth, and Said’s family joined his grandparents’ household in Kampung Kebun Bunga.7 He attended Tanglin Besar Malay School,8 (also referred to as Tanglin Tinggi Malay School), and was selected to attend the Teachers’ Training College in Tanjung Malim, Perak, when he was 13.9

However, the start of the Japanese occupation of Singapore and Malaya in 1942 ended Said’s hopes of becoming a teacher.10 He then took up Japanese language classes, and attended the Japanese Teachers’ Training College, Sihan Gakko, where his fellow students first exposed him to ideas of Malayan nationalism and anti-colonialism.11

After the Japanese Occupation, Said worked part-time as a sign-writer for the British military, while at the same time, he studied for the Senior Cambridge examinations as a private candidate.12 As a teenager, Said also closely followed, and was influenced by, the growing independence movements in Malaya and Indonesia.13

Career in journalism
In 1951, Said joined Utusan Melayu, a Singapore-based newspaper, under the editorship of Yusof Ishak.14 Said started out as a translator earning $120 a month, before joining the newsdesk as a reporter,15 where he covered Singapore’s political scene.16 In 1954, Said was transferred to Kuala Lumpur as the Malayan correspondent for the Utusan.17

The newspaper shifted its operations to Kuala Lumpur in 1958, and Said was appointed its news editor.18 Utusan positioned itself as the independent voice of the Malay community, and supported the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Alliance government, but also covered social problems and differing views.19 Conflict with UMNO led to Yusof Ishak’s resignation as editor-in-chief in 1959, and his post was filled by Said.20

As editor, Said continued Utusan’s strong nationalist, anti-colonial stance and it spurred further conflict with UMNO.21 In 1961, the party took control of the newspaper’s ownership, and attempted to direct its editorial policy.22 In a bid to preserve the newspaper’s independence, Said and the other editorial, administrative and production staff went on strike on 21 July 1961.23

On 4 September 1961, as Said was returning to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore with funds raised for the 115 workers on strike in Kuala Lumpur, he was stopped at the causeway of Johore Bahru. He was handed a restriction order that prevented him from re-entering Malaya after Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman invoked the Immigration Ordinance to bar his entry into the country.24 The Malayan government attributed the ban to security considerations.25

From Singapore, Said continued to support the strike by speaking at trade union and student union meetings, and organising the collection of donations for the striking workers.26 The Utusan Melayu strike was broken after 93 days, on 21 October 1961, and UMNO took control of the newspaper.27 The strike however, remains a significant milestone in Malaysia’s political history, being the first strike in defence of press freedom in the country.28

Political activities
After leaving Utusan Melayu, Said started a translation bureau with a former colleague, Hussein Jahidin.29 From the time of the strike, he had also developed close relationships with leaders and activists from left-wing political parties, trade unions and other organisations, including Barisan Sosialis leaders Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Dominic Puthucheary and Poh Soo Kai, and Partai Rakyat Singapura (PRS) leaders Abdul Wahab Shah, and Pang Toon Tin.30

He also edited Rakyat, the Malay-language newspaper of the Barisan Sosialis31 and wrote a book titled Irian Barat: Duri Dalam Daging supporting the Indonesian claim on Dutch-occupied West Irian.32 In his memoirs, Said wrote that the Special Branch, the domestic intelligence agency of the British colonial authorities, had placed him under surveillance from 1961.33 In 1962, Said facilitated various meetings between Parti Rakyat Brunei leader, A. M. Azahari and Barisan Sosialis leaders including Lim.34 One of these meetings came four days before a revolt against the British colonial government in Brunei in December 1962.35

Said had earlier been approached by his close friend Lim to join the Barisan Sosialis, but in 1963, he decided to join the PRS, which had Malay nationalist roots.36 On 1 February 1963, the PRS central committee elected him its president.37 Said planned to restructure the party, and form an alliance with the Barisan Sosialis.38

Operation Cold Store
On the morning of 2 February 1963, Said had been scheduled to leave for Jakarta to attend a conference for journalists.39 However, at 4.30 am that day, he was arrested and detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO; now the Internal Security Act), which allowed for detention without trial. His arrest was part of Operation Cold Store, a joint operation by the Singapore and Malayan governments, and the British colonial authorities that resulted in the detention of more than 100 leftist leaders, unionists and activists.40

Said was accused of being in the pay of Indonesian intelligence, involvement in the revolt in Brunei, and plotting to subvert the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah. He was also accused of being a leading member of the communist united front, which was alleged to have planned to overthrow the Singapore government.41 In April 1963, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in the Legislative Assembly that Said was involved in a plot to “create trouble in the Borneo territories to stop the merger in Singapore”.42

He was detained in Outram Prison before being transferred to the Central Police Station on Pickering Street, and interrogated by the Special Branch before being placed in solitary confinement in the station’s detention area, known as Top Floor Central.43 After three months, Said was moved to E Hall in the Changi Detention Centre, and later, Moon Crescent Centre and the Whitley Road Detention Centre.44

Time in political detention
While serving time at the Changi Detention Centre, Said met friends and fellow detainees like Hussein Jahidin, Salahudin Ghaus, A. Mahadeva, Lim Hock Siew, Kam Siew Yee, Lim Chin Joo and See Kim Chong.45 The detainees formed committees for language classes, socio-cultural activities and political discussion groups.46 Said also taught Malay to other detainees while he learned Mandarin and wrote a number of poems, which were published in Malaysia in 1973 as Puisi Dari Penjara (Poems from prison).47

Said was placed in solitary confinement for four separate periods, ranging between two and four months.48 In his memoirs he described the psychological trauma he experienced during this time.49 He also took part in a number of hunger strikes staged by the detainees of Operation Cold Store.50 In 1967, The Straits Times reported that the government had offered to release Said if he agreed to sign a public statement of regret and a security statement, and appear on television and radio for an interview. The newspaper also reported that he had rejected these conditions.51 Together with other detainees, Said started legal action against the Singapore government, demanding an unconditional release or trial in court.52 The action failed to secure his release.53

In November 1978, Said and Lim Hock Siew were released from detention on suspension orders, and confined to residence on the islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong Besar respectively. 54 On 22 August 1979, Said was freed from confinement on Pulau Ubin on four conditions that restricted his political activities and association with former political detainees.55 Upon his release, Said was quoted as saying he was not a communist, and that he had become apolitical.56 The government removed the restrictions on his activities in August 1981.57

Later life
After his release, Said became the editor of Asia Research Bulletin and ASEAN Business Quarterly.58 In 1989, the order barring him from Malaysia was revoked after he appealed to the Malaysian government.59 In 1994, he suffered a mild stroke, and the following year, joined his wife and children in Malaysia.60 In 1996, during a stint as guest writer at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Said produced two Malay language memoirs, which were translated into English and Mandarin.61 Said passed away in his sleep on 12 April 2016.62

Family63
Wife: Salamah Abdul Wahab
Siblings: Harun, Zali, Zawiyah, Yatim64
Daughters: Rismawati, Noorlinda.
Sons: Roesman, Norman

Works
1973
: Puisi Dari Penjara (Poems From Prison).65

2001: Meniti Lautan Gelora: Sebuah Memoir Politik (published in English as Dark Clouds At Dawn: A Political Memoir).66
2006: Dalam Ribuan Mimpi Gelisah: Memoir (published in English as The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a political prisoner).67
2015: Suara bicara: Fragment memoir Said Zahari68



Author
Alvin Chua



References
1. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
2. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
3. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 37, 122. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
4. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 180–181. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
5. Kwee, M. (1979, August 23). Homecoming caps Hari Raya joy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Said Zahari. (2001). Meniti lautan gelora: Sebuah memoir politik. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.40924 SAI); Said Zahari (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Said Zahari. (2006). Dalam ribuan mimpi gelisah: Memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.4092 SAI); Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
6. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
7. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
8. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
9. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
10. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
11. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 22, 24–27. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
12. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 28, 36. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
13. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 28–32. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)           
14. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 37. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
15. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 37–42. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
16. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 47. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)           
17. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
18. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
19. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 57–58. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
20. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 58–63. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
21.  Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 68–73. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
22. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 73–74. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
23. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 74. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
24. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Entry ban on former editor of Utusan. (1961, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Zahari ban: ‘Security reasons’. (1961, September 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
26. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
27. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 72–73. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
28. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 118. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
29. Zahari the ‘link’. (1963, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Johan Jaafar. (2001, June 16). The story as told by Said. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
31. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 168. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Zahari the ‘link’. (1963, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 190. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
33. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 187. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
34. Bloodworth, D. (1986). The tiger and the Trojan horse. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 270–271. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 BLO); Lee: A Red plot to wreck Malaysia. (1963, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Bloodworth, D. (1986). The tiger and the Trojan horse. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 271. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 BLO); Lee: A Red plot to wreck Malaysia. (1963, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp.122–125. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
37. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 122–123. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
38. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp.127–131. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
39. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 122. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Sam, J., et al. (1963, February 3). The swoop began at 3 a.m.. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Sam, J., et al. (1963, February 3). The swoop began at 3 a.m.. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 185. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Lee: A Red plot to wreck Malaysia. (1963, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Lee: A Red plot to wreck Malaysia. (1963, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 186–187. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
44. Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 216–217, 220. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
45. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 196. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
46. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 201. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
47. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 303. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
48. Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
49. Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, pp. 53–54. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
50. Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 56. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
51. Detainee Zahari to sue for freedom: Wife. (1967, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 214. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Detainee Zahari to sue for freedom: Wife. (1967, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 13; Detainees seek leave for habeas corpus action. (1971, January 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Fong, L., & Chandran, R. (1978, November 18). Hock Siew, Zahari out. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, pp. 221–224. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Fong, L., & Chandran, R. (1978, November 18). Hock Siew, Zahari out. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Kwee, M. (1979, August 23). Homecoming caps Hari Raya joy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. Govt removes curbs on Said Zahari. (1981, August 24). The Straits Times, p. 11; Kwee, M. (1979, August 23). Homecoming caps Hari Raya joy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
57. Govt removes curbs on Said Zahari. (1981, August 24). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
58. Said Zahari may write on prison life (1979, August 24). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
59. KL lifts ban on ex-chief editor (1989, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 14; Zahari ban lifted. (1989, June 5). The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Tan, J. (2001, January 13). Former detainee Zahari writes his memoirs. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
61. Mazlan Nordin. (1999, August 13). Of memories that are not rose-tinted. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Said Zahari (2001). Meniti lautan gelora: Sebuah memoir politik. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.40924 SAI); Said Zahari (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI); Said Zahari (2006), Dalam ribuan mimpi gelisah: Memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.4092 SAI); Said Zahari (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
62. Ho, W. F. (2016, April 12). Ex-top editor, ISA detainee Said Zahari dies. The Star. Retrieved 2016, April 13 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/04/12/said-zahari-dies/
63. Kwee, M. (1979, August 23). Homecoming caps Hari Raya joy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors, p. 24. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
64. Said Zahari. (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
65. Said Zahari. (1973). Puisi dari penjara. (Usman Awang). (Ed.). Kuala Lumpur: Setia Murni. (Call no.: Malay RSING 899.281 SAI)
66. Said Zahari. (2001). Meniti lautan gelora: Sebuah memoir politik. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications: Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.40924 SAI); Said Zahari (2001). Dark clouds at dawn: A political memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Insan. (Call no.: RSING 322.4095951 SAI)
67. Said Zahari. (2006). Dalam ribuan mimpi gelisah: Memoir. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 322.4092 SAI); Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publications & Distributors. (Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)
68. Said Zahari. (2015). Suara bicara: Fragment memoir Said Zahari. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Pusat Sejarah Rakyat: Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. (Call no.: Malay RSEA 070.924 SAI)



Further resource
Boon, C. (2007, April 11). Film about ex-political detainee is banned. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Left-wing extremists--Singapore
Said Zahari, 1928-
Politics and Government>>National Security
National security
Law and government>>Security
Political activists--Singapore