Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 28 March 2016

I read with incredulity and amusement that some of the Pakatan Harapan politicians at the ‘Save Malaysia’ rally had appointed themselves representatives of the more than 10,000 ISA detainees to forgive Mahathir for his authoritarian rule including use of detention without trial.

The first point of fact worth noting is that up until now, Mahathir has yet to apologize for his authoritarian record and to ask for forgiveness from any of the ISA detainees he incarcerated. The second point is of course the shameless gall of these politicians to arrogate to themselves the role of representating all these former ISA detainees!

The ISA games politicians play

Many politicians today wear their ISA detention like a badge of honour that they can display for maximum political mileage. To them, their ISA detention was bearable as long as it could be used in the advancement of their political careers. In fact, from my detention while at Kamunting, those politicians who were not yet married, who did not yet have their own families or minimally participated in family life had quite a good time there. During Operation Lalang, most of the members of the main political parties and large NGOs were not subjected to physical torture so they may be ready to forgive the man who now opposes the Prime Minister who stands in their political path. Some may even want to thank the former Prime Minister for helping to advance their political careers…

Can these politicians really speak for all of the more than 10,000 ISA detainees since 1960?

Do they represent Loh Meng Liang, who sadly departed last week, and who was detained for more than 16 years? He was my first roommate when we were taken to Kamunting in 1987. He stood for socialist principles that Mahathir’s government considered a threat to national security and saw more than 16 years of his life taken away for his socialist beliefs.

Do they represent Joshua Jamaluddin, the Malay convert to Christianity who suffered gross torture such as this: “On one 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 for about 10 minutes…” (Kua Kia Soong, ‘445 Days under the ISA’, 1989:206) This is but a small part of the bestiality by the ISA torturers that Joshua was subjected to.

Do these politicians also represent Munawar Anees, the former confidant of Anwar Ibrahim? In his affidavit:

“Alas, the Malaysian dictator, Mahathir, under the growing burden of corruption and cronyism, conspired to halt the march of freedom. In order to build his fraudulent case against Anwar, Mahathir himself ordered my arrest. My kidnapping and detention by the infamous Malaysian Special Branch taught me how it feels to be forcibly separated from one’s wife and children. How it feels to be searched and seized, disallowed to make phone calls, handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped naked, driven in an animal cage, shaven bald, endlessly interrogated, humiliated, drugged, deprived of sleep, physically abused. What it’s like to be threatened, blackmailed, tormented by police lawyers, brutalized to make a totally false confession, hospitalized for a consequent heart ailment, and treated as a psychiatric patient with symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.” (Dr. Munawar Anees’ Story,

The details of his harrowing experience by these sub-human torturers can be gleaned from his affidavit on the internet. Have any of these Pakatan Harapan politicians asked Dr. Munawar Anees if he forgives Mahathir for the bestiality he went through?

The ISA has been a tool of state repression

The reality is that the ISA has been used as a political tool by the Malaysian state all these years to maintain their class rule. So it is not for the Pakatan Harapan politicians to forgive one man for using the ISA. Do they also forgive the entire ruling class represented in the Malaysian state? Maybe this form of political analysis is beyond the ken of these Harapan politicians…

The use of the ISA goes way back to the Independence days when the main threat to the ruling Alliance coalition was the Socialist Front. Do our present day politicians also claim to represent all those ISA detainees since 1960? Have our Pakatan Harapan politicians undergone the torture that many of these former Socialist leaders and activists had to undergo? The following is an excerpt from a hitherto unpublished statement by “political prisoners of Kawasan A, B, C”, dated 1 May 1969, a historic document released from Batu Gajah Detention Camp:

“1. We political detainees have undergone days and nights of endless interrogation which have inflicted grave toll on the mental condition of many detainees;

  1. 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;
  2. We have had needles stuck in our fingernails and pencils used to squeeze our fingers between them;
  3. We have been burnt with cigarette lighters and hit with elastic bands, some have had nails inserted into their genitals;
  4. We have been asked to strip off our pants and to sit on open bottles;
  5. We have been made to take off our clothing and to stand before fans and air conditioners until we have passed out;
  6. 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 between ten to twenty years;
  7. We political prisoners here have been detained for between four to eight years without trial;
  8. 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;
  9. 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…”

Forgiveness and impunity

Do I forgive Mahathir for taking away 445 precious days of my life from 1987 to 1989? On the one hand, I may forgive him if he apologises to me and if I am convinced that he has expressed contrition for his oppressive rule. To date, he has not publicly expressed a single word of apology to me or as far as I know, to any of the ISA detainees he put away under his rule.

On the other hand, while I may choose to forgive him for my ISA detention once I am convinced of his show of remorse, Mahathir still needs to account for the many financial and privatization scandals in which he lost up to (according to Barry Wain’s accounting) RM100 billion of the Malaysian people’s monies mainly to crony capitalists.

Our politicians need to know how to differentiate ‘forgiveness’ from ‘impunity”:

“Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations.” (The First Principle of the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005)

If our Pakatan Harapan politicians are not committed to combatting impunity, then to be consistent, they will also have to forgive Najib whenever he steps down from office and forget the 1MDB scandal and the 2.6 billion that went into the Prime Minister’s private account.