In the aftermath of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the editorial of Dissent was a typical response:

"Terrorists are parasitic on oppression, they are not friends of the oppressed. We have to defend our lives; we are defending our way of life." ( Dissent , Fall 2001)

Terror is the use of violent and terrifying actions for political purposes, whether by a government to intimidate the population or by an insurgent group to oppose the government in power. We have to decide whether the terror of detention without trial, especially the infamous Internal Security Act, is part of the Malaysian way of life or a relic of our former colonial past.

In their effort to justify this draconian law, the Malaysian ruling coalition unwittingly use the former colonial master's racist arguments that countries such as ours still require laws which blatantly violate human rights, such as the ISA.

This is an affront to the dignity of Malaysians for even after the Sept 11 terrorist attack on the US, the Americans would not contemplate a law which allows detention without trial such as the ISA.

The Prime Minister and other BN leaders have been misleading the Malaysian public when they say that the Americans are thinking about learning from Malaysia's use of the ISA. In the first place, the Americans can learn from their War Minister, Tony ("The Third Way") Blair since Britain is the mother of the ISA. Why do they need to learn from Malaysia? Britain has its own Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974.

Declared innocent and released

Under this law, four Irish suspects were convicted of the Guildford bombing and six in the Birmingham case, only to be declared innocent and released 16 years later. The Americans themselves are old hands at using "security laws" in the Third World from their involvement in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere. They certainly do not need Malaysian help in this area.

In the US itself, Americans are in the process of discussing trade-offs for liberties against the need for security. However, they value their fundamental freedoms too much to consider reverting to banana republicanism and allowing their personal security to be threatened by a law which allows detention without trial, up to 60 days of solitary confinement and that is bereft of judicial review.

They are now looking at measures that have been part of the furniture in many countries, e.g., closed-circuit television in public places; laws requiring everyone to carry an identity card; policemen carrying machine guns as they patrol public places; Special Branch snooping; death penalty for firearms possession; proscription of specified terrorist groups. Even conservative Americans are apprehensive about laws that allow more intrusive surveillance in their own country.

The US president wants broader authority for investigators to conduct wiretaps, monitor the Internet and track foreign students and immigrants. Certainly, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill 2001 is hard on immigrants immigrants could be jailed under more circumstances and for longer periods without appearing before a judge. But it is hard to conceive of Americans allowing the passing of a law that allows ordinary citizens to be detained without trial, 60 days solitary confinement and that disallows judicial review.

The ISA has long served as the ruling coalition's instrument of terror. Its specific purpose is to terrorise social activists, dissidents and the Opposition. It is first and foremost, a licence to torture. Renewable periods of detention under the ISA already serves as a deterrent to would-be dissidents some ISA detainees have been detained for as long as 15 and even 16 years!

Torture under the ISA is not hearsay. The judges in the recent habeas corpus hearings should have known better. This is amply documented in affidavits by ISA detainees before, during and after Operation Lalang in 1987.

It is not surprising that to date, the Malaysian government has still not ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture. This is shameful for a country that has chaired a session of the UN Human Rights Commission.

Torture under the ISA: Pre-1987

Prior to the mass arrests of October 1987, human rights organisations and international missions including Amnesty International, had contended that the conditions under which detainees are

held are deplorable; that long periods of interrogation are tantamount to mental torture and emotional deprivation. An international panel of lawyers who visited Malaysia in 1982 concluded in their report that:

"The cells lack the most basic of comforts, being of cement with no linen or furniture. They are badly lit and ventilated and are infested with insects, especially mosquitoes. The detainees, who are kept in solitary confinement, are deprived of any basic hygiene needs and are not allowed out of their cells except for interrogation." (Report by the International Mission of Lawyers, 1983)

A 1982 Malaysian Bar Council memorandum to the government noted that detainees are "invariably held in solitary confinement which can have very serious psychiatric consequences". The Bar Council added that detainees complained of round-the-clock interrogation, causing "severe mental and physical stress".

The tortures undergone by ISA detainees during the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties are well known to those who know the former ISA detainees. Their experiences are slowly but surely coming to light, mainly in Chinese publications. The following is an excerpt from a hitherto unpublished statement by "political prisoners of Kawasan A, B, C", dated May 1,1969, a historic document released from Batu Gajah Detention Camp:

  • "We political detainees have undergone days and nights of endless interrogation which have inflicted grave toll on the mental condition of many detainees;
  • During interrogation, we have been handcuffed, had our abdominal parts kicked, our heads
  • bashed against the wall until they bled, and some have had to be hospitalised;

  • We have had needles stuck in our fingernails and pencils used to squeeze our fingers between them;
  • We have been burnt with cigarette lighters and hit with elastic bands, some have had nails inserted into their genitals;
  • We have been asked to strip off our pants and to sit on open bottles;
  • We have been made to take off our clothing and to stand before fans and air-conditioners until we passed out;
  • The Banishment Law has been invoked to force political detainees out of the country, while those who do not accept banishment are kept on long-term detentions. Some at Seremban Detention Camp have already been detained for 10 to 20 years;
  • We political prisoners here have been detained for between four to eight years without trial;
  • The riot squad has been mobilised to storm our detention camp in order to force those who have refused to wear handcuffs when they leave the camp to do so. In the process, there has been bloodshed;
  • Health and medical services are very poor in the camp. Those who leave for hospital
  • treatment are forced to be handcuffed. After nine o'clock, we are forced into hot and stuffy cells"

    This is the testimony of one of the graduates of Universiti Malaya, Koh Swe Yong, who was detained during the mass arrests of the mid-70s:

    "When I was detained in 1976, I was kept in the same police remand cell as two brothers who had been locked up for quite a long time. One of them told me that they were arrested and bashed up because they had picked up a leaflet from the ground to read while on their way home after their breakfast. He claimed that the police knew that they were innocent

    "I was assaulted at the time of my detention and during subsequent interrogations. I was also beaten up and threatened at the detention camp One night, the interrogation officer said to me, 'If you do not cooperate with us, we will bring you to a dark and quiet place and we will gun you down. Then we will say that you were killed while trying to escape' A few nights later, he took out a gun and put it on the table. I was terrified

    "I was detained without trial from 1976 to 1985. During that time, I was held in solitary confinement at the Batu Gajah Detention Camp for five years from 1977. During 1981 to 1982, I was transferred to Kuala Lumpur where I was again held in solitary confinement in a small room, eight feet by 10 feet, for more than a year. Occasionally, police officers would come to try to 'turn me over'.

    "I heard many horrible stories about the suffering of other detainees while I was at Batu Gajah Detention Camp. These stories were of physical and mental torture inflicted on these detainees." ( Malaysiakini , May 4, 2001)

    Torture during Operation Lalang: 1987

    As a victim of the ISA under Operation Lalang from 1987 to 1989, I can vouch for the mental

    torture that we went through during the first 60 days. Such conditions are far worse than those

    accorded convicted criminals. Most oppressive of all is the terror of lawlessness under the hands

    of torturers who are not accountable to the public. Yeshua Jamaluddin was detained for being a

    Malay Christian convert. His affidavit at his habeas corpus hearing in October 1988

    should be an eye-opener:

    "I was not allowed to sleep for days at a stretch and was warned that I would not get any food if

    I did not cooperate. One Inspector Yusoff also threatened to disturb my girlfriend if I did not

    give any information. I was assaulted by Inspectors Yusoff, Zainuddin, Ayub and another officer

    on a number of occasions. On one occasion I was knocked to the ground and injured my back.

    Since then, I have been passing blood in my urine and have been suffering from pains in my

    lower back constantly

    "On another occasion during interrogation, Inspector Yusoff forced me to strip naked and to

    enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Inspector Yusoff also forced me to crawl on the floor in a

    naked state"

    "A police constable forced me to stand on one leg with both my arms outstretched holding my

    slippers. He made me remain in this position for two hours. He then called in a woman constable

    and her young daughter and asked them to look at me saying: "This Malay is not aware of who

    he is. He changed his religion. He has no shame!" (Kua, K S, 445 Days Behind The Wire Oriengroup 1999: 194)

    Similar charges of physical torture under the hands of Special Branch personnel can be seen in

    the affidavits by Chow Chee Keong and Irene Xavier at their respective habeas corpus applications.

    Torture under the ISA: Post-1987

    The March 1989 sitting of the Malaysian Parliament heard this shocking disclosure of torture

    inflicted on an ISA detainee, Abdul Rahman Hamzah, a former Sarawak state assemblyperson:

    "I was tortured by various means at any one time there were always three officers present but

    on one occasion, seven officers tortured me by kicking, punching, slapping and by hitting me with broom sticks. I lost consciousness a few times.

    "I was asked to duck walk, frog jump, crawl all over the room, corridor and bathroom, urinate like a dog, given the air-condition treatment after a cold shower, forced to do hundreds of push-ups

    "A tin was used to cover my head and at the same time the tin was hit with a stick. The sound of the hitting of the tin deafened one's hearing and cut and bruised my head, cheeks and ears. This caused my head and upper face to swell.

    "My interrogators would sometimes lift my body by throttling my throat with their hands and at

    the same time forcing me up. When this was done, my throat protruded and saliva would come out of my mouth. At the same time I was being hit over the cheeks and jaw areasThey twisted my wrist and body round several times before swinging me violently against the wall. I was forced to do mock sexual acts before my sneering torturers who also used stretched elastic bands to flick at my ears and nipples My head was pushed into a filthy squat toilet bowl while it was flushed repeatedly I was also poked with a floor mop used for cleaning the toilet"

    Abdul Rahman and also other detainees have concurred that:

    "The interrogators would appear to be possessed by the devil. When they interrogated me, their

    lips, hands and fingers would quiver. At times like this, I was frightened as I felt I was in the hands of people who had lost their reason." (ibid)

    Recent torture under the ISA

    The brutality inflicted on former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim by the Inspector General of Police himself in 1998 has been well-publicised not only over the Internet but also in the mainstream press. The IGP has admitted that much but while the victim of that brutality is languishing in jail, the torturer has been enjoying precious freedom all this time!

    The Royal Commission of Inquiry found Rahim Noor (IGP at the time) culpable in the beating of Anwar but no other members of the police were found to be complicit, despite the fact that several senior police officers were present in the room during the beating and they had not come forward with this evidence. The prime minister who was also then home minister was not found to be culpable by the Commission even though the police force is under the charge of the home minister.

    In February 1999, Mior Abdul Razak bin Yahya released an affidavit stating that he was threatened and abused while in police custody in 1998, which resulted in him falsely confessing to having sexual relations with the former deputy prime minister. Abdul Malek Hussein also filed police reports and released an affidavit stating that he was tortured physically, including being beaten unconscious and being forced to drink urine while he was detained under the ISA in 1998.

    Munawar's statutory declaration

    Dr Munawar Anees' harrowing experience under the ISA can be seen in his 36-page statutory declaration which is available on the web . This is a cleaned up selection to show the depths of depravity and inhumanity of the Malaysian Special Branch:

    "By the end of the second day, the long hours of interrogation, the lack of sleep, and the lack of decent food had left me completely disoriented and exhaustedLying there curled up in that foetal position I could only replay in my mind what my captors had repeatedly drummed into me, the sex acts they asked me to act out, the vulnerable position I was in

    "One of the four screamed at me to stand up. I did so. All four came from behind the table and surrounded me in a very aggressive manner as if they were about to assault me. One of them literally had his face in mine. They all screamed at me, in my ears, loudly, again and again and again that I had (had sexual intercourse) with Anwar. 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. They stopped screaming. That was what they wanted to hear. They were not interested that it was untrue."

    We call upon Suhakam to bring all these torturers to book. The National Human Rights Commission has sufficient evidence to start with. We demand a full inquiry that will not let off any torturer who has inflicted pain on any detainee. At the same time, we call upon all former political detainees to lodge a report of their detention with Suhakam so that our nation can know the full facts of this ISA Reign of Terror.

    It is a scandal that law enforcement officers can go about their grisly work as servants of the

    state. Malaysians must not allow such abominations to be committed in their name. We cannot allow political leaders to contradict the avowed national objective of attaining a "mature democratic society at peace with itself" (Vision 2020) by using laws and methods of torture typical of banana republic dictatorships.

    All Malaysians must demand that the Malaysian government ratifies the UN Convention Against Torture and abolishes the ISA forthwith.


    Dr KUA KIA SOONG, a former ISA detainee, is director of human rights group Suaram. The above article will appear in his forthcoming book Malaysian critical issues .

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