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Brutality in our own backyard

Aliran Monthly 2004:5

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syedhusin (3K)
Syed Husin tells Abdullah: "Please walk your talk!"
Abdullah Badawi should "walk the talk"

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) is pleased to note that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad has appropriately criticized the United States and Britain over the “inhumane and brutal treatment of Iraqi prisoners.” Abdullah is reported in the media today as having said yesterday that, “There is no excuse for what happened. We cannot accept it and there is no justification at all ...”

Abdullah is also reported to have urged, “The US and Britain must act immediately to stop such treatment. They must identify those responsible and take action against them.”

Well said, Mr. Prime Minister! But are you going to do anything about the brutal and inhuman treatment of Malaysian prisoners by the Malaysian police under your own ministry? Your criticism of the US and Britain will sound hollow if you do not follow it up with appropriate actions on happenings in our own backyard.

This year two people have died while in police custody. One person, Francis G Udayappan, disappeared after being arrested and questioned by the police. The police claimed he had escaped from custody, but his family members are convinced that he has died and that the police are trying to cover up the truth about the circumstances of his death.

Last year 18 people were reported to have died while in prison or in police custody. There is an estimate that the frequency of prisoners who have died while in custody over the last few years is roughly one in every two weeks. Neither the police nor the Home Security Ministry has denied these figures.

Of course we are not enumerating here cases of police violence during peaceful demonstrations and during interrogations of all types of detainees.

I wish to echo strongly what Abdullah has correctly urged the US and Britain to do by similarly urging strongly that the government he leads “must act immediately to stop such treatment (and) identify those responsible and take action against them.”

To repeat his advice to the US and Britain: Abdullah “must not wash off (his) guilt” and he “must show (his) commitment in upholding human rights of …. prisoners”.

Please walk your talk, Datuk Seri!

Syed Husin Ali
4 May 2004

Physical and mental torture

Most torture of ISA detainees occurs during the first phase of their detention, in police custody for two months before they are served with the Detention Order, signed by the Minister, and then sent to the detention camp. During this phase, detainees are kept in known lockups or unknown holding centres. Here they are subjected to interrogations and inhuman physical as well as mental torture of different degrees. In some cases the two month period is extended.

The second phase is when detainees are held at the detention centre. Kamunting is the only centre left now, but in the past there were others in Muar and Batu Gajah. Torture seldom takes place in these centres. But, there have been records and reports of detainees being attacked or tortured by police (often from FRU units) when they were on hunger strike or when sent as punishment from Kamunting to Batu Gajah, which was considered to be a more severe place.

At different times, many detainees have been sent back from the detention camp to the lockups or holding centres, purportedly for the purpose of evaluation, re-interrogation or “rehabilitation”. In several cases, they were subjected to worse forms of torture than they experienced during the first phase of their detention.

Just to mention an example, Yong Ah Chit, a University of Malaya graduate and a leader of the Chinese Language Society while in the university, who was detained with me, was transferred to a lockup in Kuala Lumpur after being detained about three years in Kamunting. In the lockup he was subjected to severe mental torture. When he was taken back to Kamunting, he was almost a total wreck and in a state of severe depression. A few months later he was released, and not long after he committed suicide by hanging.

Syed Husin Ali
31 May 2004

The story of Hamat and Aladin

During the few days I was there, I spent a lot of time talking to my new friends on their experiences, especially during interrogation. Most of these experiences were not much different from one another. They always complained about insufficient food land being tortured during interrogation. The stories of Hamat and Aladin were the saddest.

start_quote (1K) He was asked to smoke a piece of newspaper that was rolled and burnt at one end, until the fire burnt his lips, and when he tried to throw away the burning paper, he was beaten and kicked again. end_quote (1K)
According to Hamat, he put up resistance when the police came to arrest him. He did not want to give up, and so locked himself with his wife and children in their house. Finally, the police, who came in a truck load, used tear gas. Only after persistent persuasions by the village headman, did he agree to come out. Because he resisted, his interrogators used force against him. He was beaten. They accused him of hiding a gun. When he denied this, they not only beat, but kicked and slapped him as well.

One day, he fainted. His interrogators sent him back to his lockup. The corporal in charge there refused to accept Hamat under such condition and asked him to be taken to the hospital. The corporal did not want to be held responsible if anything happened. Subsequently, Hamat was taken to the hospital. After the incident he was not beaten again.

The torture on his son Aladin was worse. Although he was still young, only 19 years of age, Aladin already had a wife and a child. He was working as a labourer in Singapore. When he heard that his father was arrested, he rushed home. A day after his return, he was arrested. He was asked to admit that he had a pistol, but since he never had one, he refused to do so. He was asked to describe all his activities, which were supposed to be in support of the communists. In order to extract admission from him, he was tortured in different ways for two week. Among them were:

  • he was hit repeatedly with the fist and kicked like a football by two or three people at the same time;

  • he was burnt with cigarette stubs on his chest and back (the marks were still clear when he told me the story);

  • his penis was beaten with a stick and painted with blue ink;

  • his face was slapped tightly with both hands at the same time until his ears bled (and there was still pus in his ears when he related the story); and

  • he was asked to smoke a piece of newspaper that was rolled and burnt at one end, until the fire burnt his lips, and when he tried to throw away the burning paper, he was beaten and kicked again.
Because he could not stand the torture anymore, Aladin admitted he had a pistol in his house. He was taken home by a number of police officers. When they ransacked his house, they could not find anything. When he was scolded, Aladin said that he really did not have a pistol. The officers accused him of lying.

It was raining heavily then. According to Aladin, an officer pulled him to a dirty stream in front of his house. The officer pushed his face several times in that stream. For the first time Aladin cried. He said, he cried not because he felt hurt, but because he felt sad that this was done within the full view of his wife and child.

Syed Husin Ali,
“Two Faces“

guaneng (5K) Bright lights and endless shouting

Those who use the ISA make no effort to establish truth, uphold justice or observe an individual’s inherent right to dignity and respect.The whole purpose of the 60-day period is “turning over” the detainees to justify their own arrests without trial by the authorities.

While I was in detention, I was asked to lie over the television that the Prime Minister had acted correctly in arresting me. I told the police I had no acting skills. If I had, I could have been a rich and famous movie star instead of being a persecuted, penniless democratic activist.

To repay my recalcitrance, the Special Branch inflicted upon me some preliminary punishment. I was denied sleep for 48 hours. I was placed in a high-back chair with a bright light shining in my face while my interrogators, who worked 24-hour shifts, endlessly shouted into my ears.

Lim Guan Eng,
Aliran Monthly Vol.21(3)

Chamber of horrors

The initial 60 days of detention are the most harrowing both for the detainee and his or her family. Both sides are in the dark as to where they are detained; both are kept on tenterhooks regarding family visits.

The place of detention is referred to as Malaysia’s own Chamber of Horrors. Here the detainees are at the mercy of the Special Branch tactics.

Evidence gathered so far indicates that detainees were generally subjected to prolonged interrogation in deliberately over-cooled rooms, deprived of sleep for extended periods of time and threatened with indefinite detention without trial. An Amnesty International report released on Dec 20, 1988 pointed out that interrogators humiliated and terrorised several detainees during interrogation with mock sexual assaults. Uncooperative detainees were beaten up, punched and slapped.

Detainees were mostly held incommunicado during the 60-day period. In many cases, their families had no notion where they were being held. Others were given limited access to families, relatives, and defence counsel. One detainee has described the so-called investigation period as “a licenced period for the Special Branch to terrorise and torture.” The systematic use of physical and mental torture in the course of interrogations violates not only international legal standards, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important documents of the 20th century.

Article 5 of the Declaration lays down very clearly that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, witness what had taken place in the Chamber of Horrors.

Aliran Monthly Vol.21 (11/12)

Tireless interrogators

That night I was interrogated till the next morning by a new team of interrogators whom I’d met the evening before. They took turns, two or three of them every two hours. I was made to sit on a round stool with no back. Compared to the first team, this team was extremely rough. They spewed obsenities, screamed at me, cursed, scolded, insulted and humiliated me all through the night. (p. 49, translated)

Kassim Ahmad
Universiti Kedua: Kisah Tahanan Di Bawah ISA
Petaling Jaya, Media Intellek, 1983

She was abused, insulted, threatened and bullied like an animal.

“I shall always remember how on the ninth day of my detention, I was beaten with a stick. It was the most humiliating experience in my life. I was forced to stand there while an inspector of the Special Branch beat me with a stick - to remind me that they were not going to treat women more leniently. I was truly in a state of shock.

Irene Xavier,
Aliran Monthly Vol.21 (11/12)

hisham1 (6K) Insulted, shamed and abused

From the start of the interrogation process, for about four continuous weeks, the questions put to me were a form of mental and emotional torture. I was insulted, shamed and abused with swearing and derogatory words meant to reduce my self-esteem. The worst period of abuse was during the first three weeks of interrogation. Among the vicious abuse hurled at me included:-
  • You are a coward;
  • You are not a Malay;
  • You are a traitor;
  • You like sucking ... deleted because of excessively obscene references;
  • You suck ... deleted because of excessively obscene references;
  • You are useless to this country;
  • Why did you come back to Malaysia?
  • You are a corruptor of the Malays;
  • You are a stooge for the Chinese;
  • You are a foreign agent;
  • You work for the United States;
  • You are Al Gore’s stooge;
  • You aren’t a muslim, you are an infidel, you are damned and you will burn in hell. You will be rejected by the earth when you die.
  • You are an adulterer and you are like PAS, a party of the devil;
  • You eat pigs, snakes and centipedes;
  • You will not be accepted into heaven;
  • You have one foot in the grave;
  • You will die alone;
  • When you die, your body will be thrown away;
  • There will be no grave that will accept your body;
  • You will be fuel for the hellfire;
  • No one will pray for you when you die...
Besides the statements above, the interrogating officers also insulted and hurled abuse at me by accusing me of sexual improprieties:-
  1. How many European women had I slept with? Questions like these were put forward to me repeatedly. Among the questions asked of me repeatedly were ... deleted because of excessively obscene references. Nevertheless, I refused to answer such questions and informed them that it had nothing to do with national security;

  2. They told me how Tan Sri Samad Ismail, when he was detained under the ISA, had confessed to sleeping with many women. ... deleted because of excessively obscene references. I did not answer these questions.

Hishamuddin Rais
Aliran Monthly Vol.21(7)

They stripped me of all self-respect

"They screamed and screamed and screamed, in my ears, at my face, at me, again and again, over and over asking me to say 'yes' until I gave in and broke down saying yes, yes."

The way Munawar raved and raged against a legal counsel who had turned up to represent him, exposed the cruel and chilling terror of torture and trauma he had been subjected to.

In his affidavit, he summed up his horrendous experiece:

"They stripped me of all self-respect; they degraded me and broke down my will and resistence; they threatened me and my family; they frightened me; they brainwashed me to the entent that I ended up in court on 19 Sept a shivering shell of a man willing to do anything to stop the destruction of my being."

Dr Munawar Ahmad Anees,
Aliran Monthly Vol.21 (11/12)

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