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BATANG KALI, Malaysia, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) — During the British colonial, 24 ethnic Chinese were shot dead by the British army as the latter accused them of being terrorists and were trying to escape — a claim that was crushed years later as evidence suggested the 24 were innocent.
Named after the small town, the Batang Kali Massacre took place in the Selangor State of Malaya on Dec. 12, 1948. Fire was also set on the village where the 24 men were seized.
The British government has refused to correct the records despite calls from the people of Malaysia and activists in the United Kingdom. And now, family members of the victims plan to take the matter to court — the first of such action and a last resort.
Loh Ah Choi was only nine when he watched his uncle shot dead at a rubber estate in the town some 34 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital.
He is 70 years old now, but the memory still haunts him.
In an interview with Xinhua, Loh said the British armies did not believe that they were innocent.
“My uncle was only 19 years old. He was attending college in Kuala Lumpur. It was a school holiday and he came back to help my mum. They executed him. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“I said, ‘grandma, they took uncle!’ It was not so far away. It was just about 100 meters from here. We heard three shots. We were on the lorry when we heard more shots. They then torched the house. We did not even have a single piece of clothes with us.
“Of course we cried. My uncle loved me so dearly. I was the only child back then. I was only nine years old,” said Loh in grief.
A total of 26 unarmed ethnic Chinese laborers were shot by the Scots Guardsmen at that time. Two survived, 24 dead — most of their bodies mutilated.
According to the British official records, the 24 were sympathisers of the enemies of the British. But years later, some of the Scots Guards involved in the shooting confessed and survivors of the massacre gave their statements. They said the killings were unjustified.
Wong Then Loy, another witness of the massacre, said he had followed his father to collect the bodies of the 24.
“I was a child then. We, children at that time were not afraid of anything. Four or five days after they were shot, the landlord came to look for our father to collect the bodies.
“We picked up the bodies, like we used to pick up tree logs. Families came to claim them and set up graves for them. My dad was the one who carved their tombs,” said Wong.
The British had concluded that it was an incident and refused to launch an inquiry although new evidence continued to emerge. The Malaysian government opened the case and dropped it citing lack of evidence.
Loh spent most of his life advocating justice to be returned to his uncle. He had personally collected signatures from Chinese associations around the country and submitted a petition to the British government to launch an inquiry.
But to date, nothing has been done and the 24 dead ethnic Chinese were still labelled as bandits and terrorists.
Loh is not giving up, determined to get his uncle’s name cleared. He, with the help of a group of activists and lawyers advocating for the same cause, are taking the case to court soon.
It is the first time that such action has been taken, but it would be the last resort.
“I hope they compensate and apologize. It has been so long. Now I can’t work. No one would hire me because I’m old. I don’t know till when I shall wait. But I will wait, perhaps until the day I die,” said Loh.
Quek Ngee Meng, a lawyer and activist, has been helping surviving kins of the victims for years, demanding the British government to investigate the incident and clear the names of the victims.
“These people were killed unlawfully. Therefore, compensation needs to be paid. Their fathers, ancestors, being labelled as bandits and terrorists are being stuck into the official history. They want this record to be cleared,” said Quek.
But to date, nothing has been done.
“First, the British are saying that at that time, the British soldiers were employed by the Malayan or Selangor state government, not by the Queen. Therefore, we should sue the Malayan or Selangor government.
“Secondly, they said after the independence (Malaya gained independence in 1957), the Malayan government actually succeeded all the liability and responsibility. Therefore we shouldn’t point our claim against the British government.
“They (the British) use this kind of frivolous, ridiculous excuse to stay away, to refuse our claims, which we think is unreasonable,” stressed Quek.
It would be increasingly difficult for authorities to investigate the Batang Kali Massacre due to the lack of evidence. That begs the question: how much longer can those who have been actively pursuing justice for the victims hang on to the case.
The last adult witness, Tham Yong, who was 17 when she saw the killings died last year. The father of Quek, who himself was also an activist and an inspiration to his son, died the same year.
There was no record of the Batang Kali Massacre in the country’ s history books.
“When we asked for the public inquiry to be set up, they refused on the account that this happened over 62 years ago. This will incur substantial taxpayers money to set up the inquiry without going to the substance of the case.
“We have done sufficient research. It was disclosed that the British government doesn’t have legal authority to kill the 24 unarmed civilians. And we hope the British government could face up to these challenges but they didn’t.”
“The only avenue left for us is to go to court,” said Quek.
The group will file a petition at the British High Court next month and expect to stand a trial at the court in a few months.
Quek said, that will be their last resort in asking for an investigation to clear the victims of any wrongdoings.
No one knows what will happen after that, but Quek and the victims’ family members will make sure that part of the history is not left behind.
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